The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine took place at dawn on February 24. A day that became bloody for all Ukrainians, going down in the modern history of Ukraine.
During the Russian aggression in Ukraine, Tetiana and her four-year-old daughter Varvara were in Mariupol. Living in a house with a military shelter underneath, the first day the woman was able to move to a more secure place. The basement of the house became home to hundreds of people, including two Roma families.
The first acquaintance: on the border between humanity and stereotypes
Tetiana went down to the shelter with her child on the first day. Gradually, more and more people joined them, until it exceeded two hundred people.
“Initially, there were few people in the shelter, but the number gradually increased. A few days later, two Roma families joined us, including men, women and children. The first time we did not have much contact, but somehow they began to treat the daughter with goodies. It was without words, just brought food, juices and sweets. I was very embarrassed, did not want to take all that, but heard in response that it was for my daughter. A few days later, two Roma girls, Nelia and Tasia, came to ask me to allow them to cook in my apartment. The girls said they had no one to turn to. Everyone turned their backs on them.”
Tetiana was one of the few who agreed to help Roma women. She understood that she could not refuse, even if others looked askance at them. The woman took the girls to her apartment and allowed them to do chores in the kitchen. At one point, emotions took over and the girls cried. Eventually, they began cooking together from the last of the stockpiles, and shared a stingy lunch with all.
“We took turns by the phone at night to say ‘alive’”
The situation in Mariupol was getting worse. Power was cut off on March 1. The next day the water disappeared. People did not even have the opportunity to drink water. Mariupol residents were cut off from contact with their relatives, and getting out of the shelter became scarier every day.
“When there was no more light and water, the husbands of the girls whom I allowed to cook turned to me. Moisei and Vasylii took the batteries somewhere and they asked if I needed to charge something.”
In the shelter, people panicked and tried to fight for their lives as much as they could. Sometimes there was a certain tension between everyone sitting in the shelter. Almost no one was able to charge the phone and contact relatives. Roma men offered everyone to use batteries if necessary. They offered batteries even to those who were afraid to let them into their own kitchen.
Moisei and Vasyl, along with everyone else, were grateful to Tetiana, who first helped their wives and later did not refuse to help their husbands.
“After a while, Kyivstar stopped working in Mariupol. Only MTS was available, but it worked from time to time. It so happened that our Roma were one of the few who used the services of this mobile operator. All those who wished, took Nelia’s phone to call their families. I had no contact with my mother for more than a week and understood her condition. We called but there was no connection. I went to bed, and a few hours later the girls came up and said to call until I got an answer. Then I was finally able to tell my mother that I was alive. These people were so wonderful that we all defended them together from the Mariupol newcomers to the shelter.”
“They went under shelling to get water and then distributed it”
Due to the shelling, there was no talk of water supply restoration at all. Drinking water was running out quickly, it could only be collected at the risk of one’s life.
“Emotions passed; I went outside in tears and saw Vasyl and Moisei. There were no shops nearby where you could buy the necessary food and water. They had a car, so I asked them to take me with them if they went to the store. I could not reach it myself – it was too far and dangerous, and there was almost no water. They opened the trunk of the car and began to share what they had. They assured me that I would not get in trouble as long as they are right there and that they would help everyone as long as they can. The boys completely clogged the car with empty bottles, collected water from a well and simply delivered it to the locals, shared it with others. These Roma families gave everything they could. They helped like no one else.”
After the shell had fallen near Tetiana, the woman was afraid to stay on the street for a long time. The lack of gas pushed people to cook under shelling in the backyard. From time to time, we had to turn to Vasyl and Moisei for help, and they did not refuse to heat the water or keep the fire going.
“Sometimes I asked to sit with my daughter, and when I returned I saw that she was eating something delicious. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have water at all for 2 weeks. At that time no one was helping, and it was scary to take a risk with a small child. I was constantly given packages of food and canned food. We were not just a team, but real friends.”
“Guys under shelling ran to the drama theatre and learned about the ‘green corridors’”
People spent three weeks in the occupied city, hoping to leave for Ukrainian-controlled territory. The sound of guns, shots, and the city was covered by darkness from “Grads”. When the people of Mariupol lost touch, it became more and more difficult to find out about the possibility of leaving. On the morning of March 15, there was a chance, and Tetiana, along with others, took advantage of it.
“We learned the news about the “green” corridor from the guys. They periodically ran to the drama theatre and asked about the opportunity to leave. After another shelling, the men said that there was the opportunity to leave the city. It was March 15. I knew that the families of Vasyl and Moisei also risked leaving, but it was unknown whether they could get to a safe place. It was only when I arrived in western Ukraine that I was able to contact Nelia. She said that everyone was safe, that they reached the city of Dnipro and stopped there“.
Not everyone risked leaving the basement. Those who left the shelter later asked if the Roma had reached a safe place. People who spent three weeks side by side were grateful to Roma families for their support and assistance. Tetiana says that despite the unbearable conditions, the Roma were among those who believed that the hell in Mariupol would soon end. Now Tetiana is no longer afraid. The Roma became her reliable friends, those with whom she shared a common basement during the enemy shelling. Because war is also stories about kind people – that’s the way Tetiana says.