Halya… I wrote about her in March. Just before the war started, Halya travelled to her elderly parents in Mariupol and found herself in the HELL of war. Their building was burned, her father stopped walking, and the first few weeks of the war, like most Mariupolites, they hid in dark, old basements from the endless air raids and shelling.
At the end of March, Halya’s mother managed to get a ride out of Mariupol to Berdiansk, while Halya and her father stayed in the basement of their Mariupol apartment building.
In May, when the hope that she might be rescued was rapidly fading, Halya wrote:
«I'm ashamed of the people who are up to their elbows in blood, of the people who are crippling and murdering without regret and dare to call themselves Russians…»
My main emotion then was—MIRACLE! She’s ALIVE!!! Tears of joy, but… It was a long time before my friend could answer a call just to talk. Nearly a month went by before we were able to talk at last.
I’m telling Halya’s story on her behalf and with her approval.
«Mama left for Berdiansk at the end of March and we were left with Dad in the basement of #78 on prospekt Budivelnykiv. Dad was doing really poorly, he wasn’t moving at all, he was suffering from pain and cold, and he had a fever. I had no pampers, no medications and our food ran out.
«Our neighbors were in the basement. Some of them, looking at his torments, told me that I should have left my father and gone with my mother. He wasn’t going to live anyway. I couldn’t explain to them that this was my beloved Daddy! He had always loved and supported me. Even in that hellish situation, he would whisper: ‘Daughter, I’m so sorry that I won’t see you happy again… but you will be happy afterwards, after our Victory.'
«No matter how much I loved Dad and believed in miracles, as a doctor, I knew that unless he was immediately admitted to a hospital for treatment, he would die. I decided to act…
«First I went up to our apartment to take our things. Outside, it was rumbling and howling… Strange as it seemed, our apartment was completely quiet. Like a grave. Black and burned. I stood in the smoked-out, frozen box of the slaughtered apartment building, up to my ankles in ashes, and couldn’t believe that this was MY CHILDHOOD home. This is where my sister and I played, where my mother fed us delicious suppers. This is where I fell in love for the first time, and my dear home was the first place to find out about my winning the competition and my move to Spain to study… Now the HOME was dead. It was killed by our ‘brothers.'
«I rummaged through the ashes and found the remains of my laptop and one of the two porcelain swans that symbolized the happy family life of my parents. There was no second one. For some reason the missing second swan was very painful to me. As though it escaped Mariupol while Dad and I didn’t…
«I went back down into the basement and asked my neighbor whom I had helped give birth once* to keep an eye on my father. I had made up my mind to go get some medical assistance. But where? Where it wasn’t thundering so much. This little town, Mangush, was already russian-occupied territory. Two other neighbors announced that they were going with me. Others tried to talk us out of it: the road was being shelled, bombers were flying constantly and to get to some place that was relatively quiet, we would have to go through the seven circles of hell. At that point I didn’t know that a real hell was ahead for me…
«We did manage to get to Mangush. 30 kilometers on foot, a number of checkpoints manned by the occupying forces, and the first time I was held because, in addition to a Ukrainian passport, I had a Spanish one. My Spanish citizenship raised suspicions and unwarranted nastiness. Later on, I was to run into these emotions more than once. But at least this time it ended ok.
«Contrary to my hopes, no one wanted to help my father but at least they allowed me to overnight in a cold building together with hundreds of fleeing Mariupolites and in the morning they let me go.
«I could make my way to Donetsk and leave for Spain. But Dad… my beloved, benevolent Daddy would stay in the dark, dank basement under constant bombardment.
«How would I live with myself after doing THAT? And so I returned to Mariupol. It was the beginning of April now. I got back and realized that Dad was doing really poorly. He was delirious and in desperate need of medications. In desperation, I went to the #2 municipal hospital, the nearest one that was still operating. It was already under russian control.
«‘Now what?' I thought, ‘they're also people, they also have parents and they’ll understand my desire to save my father.'
«To be honest, I had always lived in a russophone environment in the Donbas, studied at a russian-language school, and I had left for Spain back in the 1990s, when Ukraine had left the Soviet Union not that long before and friendly relations with the Russian Federation will still strong. I couldn’t believe that russians wanted Ukrainians dead. I thought that this was some kind of mistake on the part of their country’s leadership, whereas there are normal people everywhere and you can always come to terms…
«Boy, was I wrong! There were only three doctors on duty at the #2 hospital, extremely exhausted and angry.
" ‘What don’t you understand?! An ambulance simply won’t make it here. The route is under constant fire,' the head physician, Maksym Vakulenko, yelled at me. ‘Better that you help our doctors, since you claim to be a medic!'
«And so I began to help, although what they actually needed were sturdy, well-muscled attendants to move the wounded and remove the corpses.
«At first, the head physician, who had been commandeered from Donetsk, seemed to me to be a decent man: he listened, sent some militant to check how my father was doing, and invited me to celebrate his birthday, which was taking place right there in the hospital, with canapés and vodka. I didn’t hide anything, telling him how things were, that I lived and worked in Spain and came back to see my parents before the war and now I was trying to save my Dad…
«The head physician listened, nodded, and then unexpectedly began to ask me about my studies in Donetsk, the surnames of my teachers, what the university cafeteria was called… I wasn’t able to remember everything—25 years had passed!—and he suddenly declared that I wasn’t who I claimed to be.
«Then the militant came back and said that there’s no father, that our building was bombed and burned out completely. He smelled terribly of alcohol and I understood that this fool had never gone anywhere and was simply lying. I fled the hospital and ran to my own building. My father really had died.
«The neighbors carried him in a blanket to the yard and lay him down with the other victims of this insane war.
«‘Daddy, farewell and forgive me that I can’t bury you properly,' I whispered, kissing his cold forehead.
«I returned to the hospital as I simply had nowhere else to go and the city remained closed. The hope flickered that I might get to Donetsk together with the doctors who had come from there.
«But instead of the doctors, I was ‘taken away' by the so-called police of DNR and driven to Volodarsk. There they fingerprinted me and then they taped my mouth and eyes with scotch and those of another ‘prisoner,' Marina, a young lieutenant of one of the Mariupol district units, and drove us off in a paddy wagon somewhere. We drove for an hour and stopped in the middle of a field.
«‘I guess they’re going to shoot us,' Marina whispered.
«But no, we drove on to Donetsk, and stopped at the Izyum district anti-crime unit. Together with five more individuals, they stood us face to the wall and made us stand like that for three hours. It was cold. I had already caught cold in Mangush and in Donetsk I realized that I now had pneumonia. I had a fever and serious cough and pain in my chest…
«They kept us without food and water for three days, interrogating us 5−6 times. Every time I told them the truth, they didn’t believe me and demanded that I «reveal everything.» What EVERYTHING? I didn’t understand what they wanted from me. It was really easy enough to confirm that I was from Mariupol, that my parents live in Mariupol, that I had studied in Donetsk, won an international scholarship competition for young doctors and moved to Spain to study. That’s EVERYTHING. Maybe the rascists really couldn’t get it that someone might WIN, not with weapons and genocide, but with their brains and determined effort.
«At first they interrogated me courteously. Then they started hitting me over the head, and when I fell from the chair, on my ribcage. For the hundredth time, I repeated that this was the truth. But for the two monsters that wasn’t enough. I had the feeling that abusing others simply brought them a physical thrill. They attached electrical currents to my hands and feet. It hurt a lot. REALLY. HURT.
«When they didn’t get any new testimony, the creeps promised to attach the electrical wires ‘you know where.' I believed them without hesitation.
«But they brought in a new group of captives and the torturers forgot me for awhile. I listened as they interrogated some young man… judging by his voice, he was just a kid. He screamed unbearably three hours without interruption. This scream now comes to me when I’m dreaming at night…
«They had taken away my documents, my phone and my backpack with my things and money. I had been keeping my parents' funeral money. Everything disappeared, but at that moment, my own life was more important to me.
«‘Give me some antibiotics, or I will die!' I begged the local ‘investigator.'
«‘I don’t give a fuck!' he answered and wouldn’t even give me water… The whole lot of them were sadists. I thought that the worst that could be had already happened to me. But once again, how wrong I was!
«After Donetsk, when they realized they weren’t going to get any more information out of me, the occupiers drove me to Olenivka and threw me into a concrete cul-de-sac with other prisoners at the beginning of April. There were 40 people in 40 square meters. My torturers said that it was all Azov boys in this sack. In fact, there weren’t any Azov fighters there. But there were criminals and stoolies working for the russian special forces who began to bully me.
«They ‘settled' me right near the dirty, reeking toilet, refused to give me water, and knocked any meager food that we got from the ‘liberators'—a hunk of bread a day—out of our hands.
«One clear memory: I wake up on the cold concrete floor. My ribs are hurting. My head and lungs are in agony from the fever. I want to drink but there’s no water. I tried to drink some cloudy industrial water but they wouldn’t even give me that. I was hungry. I could see how the young female prisoners were sometimes taken out in a convoy for the night and afterwards the escorts gave them some canned food or some kind of work outside the cul-de-sac. This was a privilege, to be able to stand and walk. I could guess what kind of price they paid for those cans of food…
«I was not allowed to stand up. I wasn’t allowed to walk. I couldn’t even go to the toilet. They were bullying me for what? I think the plan was simple. They figured that, if I got out, I would tell the EU how horrible the Azov fighters were. What a cheap spectacle this all was, with such stupid players!
«After a few weeks of this, I couldn’t take it any more and rebelled. I started yelling and demanding a lawyer and my freedom. I was thrown into solitary. It was even colder there, but at least I could stretch my legs… Then my chest began to hurt again, I started fainting and feeling completely exhausted.
«During this month of torment, I lost around 10 kilograms, becoming a shadow of myself with scraggly hair and yellow skin. I realized that just a little more and that cul-de-sac would become my grave. I no longer cared about anything. So the next time one nasty hag of a prisoner who hated and bullied me approached me with threats and curses, I broke my spoon and screamed at her to go away or I wouldn’t be responsible for what I did next. Probably she saw something in my eyes that made her shut up and walk away…
«At the beginning of May, they let me go, simply pushing me outside the prison gates one morning and shutting the door behind my back.
«I won’t go into details about how hard it was to make my way to Donetsk, to a 90-year-old elderly relative who didn’t even recognize me. How the UN office in Donetsk helped me with money and a ticket how my friends responded with confusion, suspicion and distrust, and how I walked in my relative’s old, torn shoes to the Izyum unit to take my documents from a creep who made fun of me and the foul language with which that sadist led me out of ‘liberated' DNR—that's a very long story…
«I'll say one thing: when they told me in Donetsk that it was better to leave for Spain through Moscow, I answered: ‘Nothing doing!' And when I finally made it through circuitous routes to Lithuania, I kissed the ground of the platform. What happiness—I was, in the EU!
" I never imagined that russia might turn into a fascist state. Meanness, greed, suspicion, contempt, and idiocy—just a small part of the ‘russki mir' that had come to Mariupol.
«It really really hurt that my Dad ended up lying there in the yard. And he was just one of thousands, even tens of thousands, in Mariupol… I beg God to find him a decent Christian burial that his remains might be put in his beloved soil. He was so certain that I would survive and live to see Victory.
«Daddy, I’ll survive, I promise! I’m already home in Spain, giving interviews to the Spanish media, despite the fact that remembering everything that happened is very painful. But I have to tell the truth.
«I beg my second homeland and all western countries: help Ukraine win! Take Ukraine into the EU and don’t leave it all alone with the rascists. This war is not as far from your shores as people might think, and if Ukraine falls, Europe will fall as well.»
Halya’s story is much longer and heavier than I have told here. Trust me, even after the things that I heard from many of my friends who escaped Mariupol, Halya’s story beats all. Perhaps someone in the Ukrainian media—Dmytro Lykhoviy or Sevgil Hayretdin Qizi Musaieva—will decide to do an interview with her. I can give them the contact information.
Together we will win!
*Halya's first specialization was as an OB-GYN; in Spain she became an endocrinologist and family doctor.