Photographer Sergey Makarov recounts a terrifying escape from Mariupol

On February 24, I woke up to a friend calling me. He said the war had started. He suggested that I move with my family to Ivano-Frankivsk. I refused. It seemed to us that Mariupol was a safe place at that time. Many Ukrainian defense and military equipment had appeared since 2014.

Then, on February 26, air raid sirens began to sound in the city. The suburbs came under fire, but in the city center where I lived, it was calm. I thought it would be like during the war in 2014 — two houses would suffer and it would be over. At that time, many people left. You don’t know how much I envied them.

Things had started to heat up. Every day got worse.

On March 1, I realized that it was getting harder and harder to leave Mariupol. Russian troops began to take control of the city’s roads.

On March 3, electricity and water were cut off. I haven’t washed since March 4. Since then, we can only wash our hands in cold water. The mobile connection has disappeared. We couldn’t communicate. And we were forced to walk towards each other and share information.

The looting had already begun. In the first days of the war, I bought food and about 100 liters of gasoline. This is what finally saved us. In the beginning, I helped people move from the outskirts of the city to the center.

On March 5, the gas supply to the houses was cut off. It was the only thing we had left for lighting and heating. Before it was cut, we could at least warm ourselves with tea. After that, the nightmare began. It was -9C (about 16F) outside at night. In the afternoon, -2 or -3C (28 or 27F). At the same time, we were hiding from bombs and airstrikes in a bomb shelter. We cooked food over fires. Trees were sawed off in the yard. We couldn’t warm up. No words can describe what it was.

People cook on a grill on March 11.

People charge their phones using a Red Cross generator on March 9.

At first, there were only residents of our house in our shelter, but more and more people arrived. There were 100 people in a space of 150 square meters, including young children.

It’s a concrete basement with no light or ventilation. As long as we could, we burned kerosene and candles. Luckily we had a toilet.

All the while, I was trying to contact people out of town, charging my phone from the Red Cross generator. A lot of people accepted the fact that the connection was gone, but I wasn’t ready to give it up. From March 6 to 9, there was no connection. For a moment, I thought we had been forgotten.

On March 8, the worst began. Russia began to launch airstrikes. First with an interval of a few hours, then every minute. Several times we didn’t have time to reach the shelter and fell to the ground to save ourselves.

A damaged shop window is seen on March 9.

The city has been constantly bombarded for weeks.

I wanted to take my family, but I would only have one try. If they stopped us and brought us back, there wouldn’t be enough gas to get out a second time. Those who went for evacuation on March 5 spent the night in their cars and then returned to Mariupol. They came back and found themselves without gasoline.

On March 13, my friends told me that it was possible to exit via the old Berdyansk road. But there was a mined checkpoint and you had to go around the mines. We decided to take the risk rather than stay in the city to die.

On March 14 at 12:45 p.m. we left in a column of eight cars. There was no baggage, only people and animals. There were six people in our car. Along the way we saw mines and carefully avoided them.

Inside a damaged building on March 13.

A woman pulls a cart on a snowy sidewalk on March 9.

At one of the Russian checkpoints, the soldiers told us with a sneer: “It’s your fault that this happened in Mariupol. You didn’t have to show up.

We had to spend the night in Berdiansk. The Russians at the checkpoint told us that the city was under a curfew, “Moscow time”. So we couldn’t leave.

On March 15 we left Berdiansk for Zaporizhzhia. There were about 20 Russian checkpoints along the way. They checked our luggage, phones, messages, laptops.

Within hours we reached the Ukrainian checkpoint and were free. Now we want to go as far west as possible.

See more photos from the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Darya Tarasova contributed to this report.

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