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The unlikely beacon of light for desperate families fleeing Ukraine's most devastated city

It’s a small parking lot in front of Epicentre, a Ukrainian supermarket. It is a significant landmark for the Mariupol people.

It’s actually a beacon of sunshine in the spring sun, marking the end to a terrible ordeal for tens and thousands of people.

“It’s more than a parking lot. I spoke to Iryna Tudua (a literature professor), who had just returned from the bombed out city in her family car.

She looked into the air and said “The sun, sky,” “Thanks God.”


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Ilya Kadava worked as an engineer in a Mariupol steel plant called Illych.

The entire facility was destroyed.

Image Many cars have a sign that reads ‘children’ inside the window

We witnessed some of the 36,000 people who reached this point in Zaporizhzhia as they arrived in a procession made up of battered cars.

Many had signs in their windows that said “children”.

The distance from Mariupol to Moscow is only 300 km (186 mi). However, it’s relatively short and dangerous. It can also take several days to complete the trip.

We witnessed Marina Prylutska, a woman, pull her car into the lot. Her daughter Alisa, Helena, and Iryna were all crammed in the back.

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Image Children who flee with very little can get clothes and toys

She stated that many people who are still in Mariupol want to escape, but that there are not enough vehicles or fuel.

“People sell fuel at $200 (PS151) per can. You would be happy to find any fuel.

“Cars are destroyed. They have bullet holes. If someone leaves a car, then someone will take fuel or wheels – any way they can.”

“It was frightening… Our house was shaking”

Marina was relieved that she was safe after she had successfully negotiated 15 checkpoints with Russian soldiers.

I asked Alisa, her nine-year old daughter, about the home.

Image Alisa and her family cleared 15 checkpoints run by Russian soldiers in order to reach safety

She said, “It was frightening in Mariupol. We were on the eighth floor, and our house was shaking.

“Then, we went to my grandmother, who was on the fourth floor. We were sitting in the bathroom when the walls started shaking and creams were falling from the shelves.”

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Iryna Tudua’s family traveled six days to reach Zaporizhizhia.

Halfway through, they ran out of petrol and had to wait a while to find enough fuel to escape Russian-occupied territory.

She said that she couldn’t spend any more time in Mariupol, but she didn’t know how.

“You never know when you’ll be able to see your son again. He said something to me one night, “Sorry …”” and fought back tears.

He asked me, “Will we see your birthday in August? If not, will you be alive?” He asked me if I would be alive in August, and I didn’t know what to answer.

Image “You don’t know when you’ll be alive or dead in a minute,” says Iryna

We found another group of cars on the opposite side of the street that was trying to return to Mariupol.

Their owners would like to take them home with their family members or friends, or to bury the victims of fighting.

“If I find one leg, I find one – but I will bury it”

Alexander Kirillov’s mother was a victim of an artillery shell direct hit.

He said that he could not rescue her from the rubble, and had to flee her neighborhood.

As he spoke to us, he broke down.

Image Alexander couldn’t retrieve his mother’s body due to shelling

He said, “It’s been very cold.” She’s not alive. If I find a leg, it will be mine. But I will bury her.”

While some families take their papers and clothes with them, others like the Lashenkos bring their business.

They are French bulldog and pug breeders and were able to fit 50 dogs in two cars.

Kateryna Pen was being surrounded by yelping dogs in the van’s back.

Image “We have the dogs in both our arms and legs but we are all together” says Kateryna

She said, “No, there is not much space.” “We have the dogs in arms and legs, but they are all together, small puppies, all together.

“How did they keep them alive in Mariupol?” I asked Viktor Lashenko.

He said, “Because they were most important for us.”

“They were sleeping in one bed with us, not in cages. They live in our home, [they] are] like children to us. We didn’t lose any dog. We took them all.”


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