Mariupol: Testimonies of the City of Shadows

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


“How ever many times you see him – as many times kill him”©.

You know what hatred is? Real. Deep. Infinite. That which rises from the very bottom of the soul by a muddy wave with the color of black-gray ashes that floods consciousness. Overflows. Engulfs you all without exception. And you forget about everything: about God’s precepts, about what your mother taught you in your childhood. And you feel only one thing: the desire to tear b*stards to pieces. To burn all their b*stard seed. Together with the top layer of the earth. To the granite base. Under the roots. Have you ever felt something like this?

I doubt it.

After all, to feel it, there is need for something serious. Very serious.

For example, what do you know about the word “occupation”? Besides the fact that it is the capture of territory by the enemy and the life on this territory afterwards. I suppose the majority of you will remember the old Soviet movies about partisans and about the life of our brothers and sisters on the lands seized by fascists during the Great Patriotic War. It’s unlikely that these movies, if to be honest, cause a really serious emotional response. Firstly, because a lot of time passed and it is subconsciously perceived as something too distant and doesn’t concern neither you, nor your relatives. Even despite the fact that some had an ancestor under occupation. And, secondly, these movies are already, practically, folklore. And, besides exceptional cases (such as the great movie “Go and see”), they are perceived quietly and almost unemotionally.

Even despite the fact, if to ponder, its contents could be envied by any Stephen King and any Clive Barker. Simply the matter is that occupation is the most flagrant, most animalistic cruelty that only can exist in the world. And the occupier is a beast. Always. Without exception. Because in the eyes of the occupier, the inhabitants of the territories seized by him are not people. And in relation to them he behaves with such a degree of atrocity of what he is only capable. Especially when the command doesn’t forbid him and even encourages it. And so then when you learn what the occupier does with their people there, on the occupied land – it is at this moment you will learn what hatred is. Real. Deep. Infinite.

Once it was felt by our ancestors. A very long time ago. When they were walking on this same land and were chasing fascists away. They were walking and saw what the latter did while they were the masters of it. And then eventually it began to be forgotten…

But just now this is already not “somewhere far away”. It is nearby. On two-thirds of the territory of Donbass seized by the Ukrainian occupiers.

And what is happening there now, almost nobody speaks about. What is going on there is covered by a dense wall of the fog, pushed from both sides of the border. But the voices sound. They filter through a foggy veil and testify. These are voices of the cities, which until recently were cheerful and full of life. Which now became the cities of shadows. And I want you today to hear the voices of one of them.

These are three narrations. Without names. Without dates. Without faces. With the minimum topographical bindings. Three stories of three real people. Who still have relatives under occupation.

The name of their city stretched on the bank of the warm sea once raised a smile. Now this word is a synonym of horror and grief.

Mariupol. The city of the sun, which became the city of shadows.

Here are its testimonies.


“I [female – ed] was captured directly on the street when I left work. They simply drove up by car, said my name. When I said that it is actually my name – they immediately twisted my arm and threw me into the trunk. They beat me at the same time. When I asked them, for what – they answered that I am a ‘separatist’.”

Did you have any connection to a liberation movement?

“No. Neither before our city was handed over to them, nor after. I in general was never interested in politics. I worked as the dispatcher at a factory. I was working from pay cheque to pay cheque. I watched a women’s series on TV. I was the most ordinary person. Until that day. Then I learned that I wasn’t the only one [that such a thing happened to – ed]. They catch very many in this way. Some are simply caught. Others from denunciations.”

From denunciations?

“Yes. Because of apartments. After they took Mariupol, raguli [rural folk – ed] from western Ukraine started to be settled in the city. It is in this way that they try to substitute the population. After all, we are against Ukraine. But they are for it. Let them be damned… They hate us. And if they want to take away someone’s apartment, or car, or something else – they write a denunciation. I don’t know where they send it. But ‘Azov’ comes. And for me it is precisely they who came. They don’t care – all of us for them are not human. With each of us they can do anything they want any minute. And nothing will happen to them for this. They know it, and everyone knows this. But if only it concerned only us… Children disappear directly from the street. They are simply caught and taken away. Also ‘Azov’. How many such cases were there already. And nobody knows – where. None of them returned. Well, probably, they sell them. Maybe for organs. Maybe in brothels. To appeal somewhere is useless. Some who appeal, then vanished themselves. The SBU itself helps ‘Azov’, and the police is simply afraid. They were made to understand to not interfere. That’s why many who had children fled to Donetsk. It’s not sugar there, but such things aren’t present there.”

What happened to you after?

“At first they brought me to their location. There, they practically didn’t ask anything. They simply beat. Took away and burned my passport. And then… I would prefer to be killed there… Then they sent me to the airport.”

To which airport?

“Mariupol. Planes don’t fly from there any more. Now there is a concentration camp. They call it like that themselves – ‘concentration camp’. And laugh. And at that time, I didn’t see prisoners there. Only the same as me – simple peaceful citizens. Many. Very many. Although they also brought prisoners there – or so I was told. They converted it for this purpose. There a whole infrastructure of torture exists. For example, they brought some freezers there, in which it is either -16 or -18. Generally, a certain standard temperature. I am not aware of such details. But they constantly put people there. Some are frozen to death. To whom they simply mock. I saw such people while I was sat there. It is their favourite attraction – to freeze people in these cells. I didn’t see everything there. But they kill there every day. How many – I don’t know. Differently, probably. But every day. We heard how they shoot.

The next day I was led to interrogation. If it is possible to call it so. The fact that I have nothing to tell them – they knew. But all the same they scoffed. They demanded that I call accomplices to say how I prepared some acts of terrorism. While they laughed during this. There, among them were not only raguli. There were also our locals there. These ones were the most mean. For raguli we are simply not humans, but for these… I even don’t know how to say it.”

I understand what you mean.

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“And then I was led to execution. Near a hole. And I saw what was there… All these sticking-out hands and feet that are powdered with quicklime. And this smell… I fainted. I was not unconscious for long. I recovered because they beat me with their feet. They told that if I don’t get up, then they will throw me there alive, like carrion. I rose. But they brought me back to the cell. I don’t know if in reality they were going to shoot me or not. They do it with some – they lead them to a hole, and then shoot over their heads. Perhaps it’s their entertainment. I don’t know. They in general there are smiley. As though the dream of all their life was fulfilled. Although, maybe, that’s just how it is.”

It was repeated?

“Not execution. Interrogations – yes. There were a couple more times. I was beaten again. But already without zeal. Probably, they had something else to do.”

What else did you see there?

“Not especially a lot of. I heard more… They mocked people in different ways. Not only at the airport. I was sat with a half-mad woman from one of the villages near Mariupol who was raped in front of her children. Moreover, they forced the children to look. She had three children. Where her children then disappeared to isn’t known. It also was ‘Azov’. They simply entered into her house. They simply raped. They simple forced the children to look. And then she was thrown to the airport. This, by the way, is not the most horrible place. There are worse. For example, the female zone [jail – ed] of Mariupol. There, for half a year no young or somehow beautiful convict was left. Allegedly, they write down that they fled. Where the girls disappeared to in reality – who cares? Already before war they had no special rights. And now…”

How long did you stay there?

“About three weeks. Then I was sent to the SBU and transferred to Zaporozhye. There they started to write up a case on me seriously. I don’t even know what they invented there. They simply beat me and forced me to sign something… And then I was exchanged. Unexpectedly. I was simply put into the car, was driven somewhere for a long time, taken outside, and transferred to people dressed in ‘gorka’ [camouflage attire – ed]. I even didn’t understand immediately that militiamen [DPR Army – ed] wear ‘gorka’. When I understood where I was, I started to be hysterical. All the road to Donetsk  they calmed me. Then for a long time I couldn’t find employment anywhere. I had no documents, nothing. Finally I came to ‘Prizrak’ [battalion – ed]. There I was accepted. I asked to go to the front line – they didn’t take me. They said that – supposedly you hate them too much. You will kill them without restraint.

Yes, I hate. Yes, I will. You want to say – I have no right?”


“I from the very beginning was for the Russian Spring. I wasn’t an activist, but I actively sympathized with it and at the referendum I voted for independence. Then, when the city was abandoned and Ukrops came into it, I started helping the underground. Well, and then I was taken away. How they pinpointed me – I don’t know. Simply one fine day they yanked me directly from the street and drove away. I was taken by the SBU. The SBU is engaged in those like me. Not ‘Azov’. The latter only scoff at peaceful citizens and prisoners. Then I even was delighted that I was taken by them, and not by a territorial battalion. They, in general, are beasts. While these ones, at least, are on service. I thought it would be easier. I was mistaken.”

Where were you then brought?

“I was practically immediately taken out of Mariupol. I was transferred to Kharkov. To the local SBU department. There many of ours are taken. Underground workers, prisoners, and those who didn’t say favourable words. Well, and simply those who are suspected. And this is one of the most horrible places, in reality. In the Kharkov SBU there are the most real degenerates, who aren’t any better than the territorial battalions. Or maybe even worse. These same ‘Aidar’ or ‘Azov’ have a lot to learn from them, in reality. By the way, as I was told then, in western Ukraine, in the same Lvov or Ternopol SBU they don’t torture so brutally. I don’t know why. Maybe simply because there they are cunning or have some patrimonial memory – they understand that for this then they can be made accountable. Or maybe they don’t especially understand, but know for sure. They feel it with their nape. So that’s why they behave more or less correctly towards people. But our local… The most real wild beasts. Although, the auxiliary police were always like that – they hated most of all their own. You know as it said: there is no stronger hatred than what the traitor feels towards those who he betrayed. So here it is, they are like that here.”

What happened later?

“I was tortured for 18 hours. Without interruption. They changed when were tired. I know precisely the time – I saw the clock. How was I tortured? Generally beaten. Listen, I couldn’t even imagine how many different ways exist to beat a person. Kharkov SBU has a trick – to beat with a book. Well, with a book edge, you understand? On the soft tissue. But this is just one of the methods. The guys fantasised. They obviously like their work. It’s not the books that I remember. They took grenades without pins, thrust them into a gas mask, and beat using it. On each side. On the back. On the chest. When I blacked out, they woke me up themselves and continued. Probably, they only didn’t beat me on the head – they had no task to kill me. Although, it would have been better if they did. Then, when I already finally became a piece of meat, I was simply thrown into the police van and ordered to be taken to a pre-trial detention center. But half-way there the escorts turned the car around and drove me to hospital. I heard their talks on a handheld transceiver: they used vulgar language and said that ‘the separatist will now simply croak’ in their car, and later on it is them who will be responsible. I heard this and understood that blood came from my mouth. A lot of blood. I already felt nothing. In general nothing. Probably, I was really dying. Who knows.”

You were brought to the hospital?

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“Yes. They didn’t want to accept me there. The doctor in the accident ward tried not to let us in. He said that they have no anaesthesia, and it obviously needs an operation, and quickly. And that he also doesn’t want to afterwards write a formal report. And the escorts answered: ‘This is a separatist, cut him without anaesthesia‘. So… they did it.”

What, you were operated on without anaesthesia?

“Yes. Exactly. Then I was told that it could be under local anaesthesia. I don’t know, maybe. But what they were doing in the SBU before this isn’t comparable to what was going on in this hospital. Then they ‘operated’. What did I feel at this moment? I will hardly be able to explain it to you. It was discovered that as a result of beating my ribs were broken so that splinters went into my lungs. Half an hour longer – and I really simply would have died. Maybe even quicker. Plus, multiple injuries to the internal organs. Plus, hematomas. This word sounds routine, but imagine a bruise from which the human leg becomes twice as thick. You imagine? And I was like that all over. Honestly? In general I can’t imagine why I am still living. And you know what shocked me most of all? Ukrop doctors. In my chamber they hung up a big plate: ‘Separatist’. They practically didn’t give me painkillers. The nurse brought food and put it nearby. She saw that I was chained by the hands and feet. That I won’t be able to eat. Not to mention that for a week I couldn’t make the slightest movement in general. She saw it. She put food near my head and smiling. And you know who appeared to be human? The escorts. They saw everything. And then started to secretly feed me. So that nobody saw it. And one even brought some painkillers. He bought it using his money in the pharmacy and also secretly gave it to me. God grant them health and a long life.

But the most tough was not this. Several times they brought students from the local medical institute to me, in order to show how such unusual wounds begin to heal. And so these future doctors (and their ‘mentors’) looked at me like an inanimate object. And even not like an animal. I don’t even know what it was. I had neither hatred, nor any special emotions. Simply some cold, quiet something. As if in front of me there are not people. Some beings without a soul. Do you remember the old movie ‘Alien’? So they were also something like that. Judging by their dialect all of them were not local. Some from western Ukraine. Some from the central regions. In Kharkov there always was good education, many went there during the USSR. While there was only one local there – the one who brought them. The teacher. And they stuck a probe into open wounds. As though I am a frog. Although, not every frog is cut open alive. I shout once, and the teacher told them to note the painful reaction, look at how the muscles twitch. Well, or something like that. After this I already didn’t shout any more. I didn’t want to give such joy to this scum. During my childhood I once watched a movie about how medical experiments were done in concentration camps. And I couldn’t understand what kind of people could do this. Were they really people? Now I know – I saw them. They are not people.”

How did you break free?

“I was exchanged. On one of the last exchanges. Before this ‘Minsk’ finally settled down and prisoners were ignored. Before, there were claims that we didn’t exist. Why especially me – I don’t know me. There were many like me there. Lots. You can’t imagine how many. In such places like Mariupol, in general, whoever can be caught and for anything. There, everyone is beyond the law. You know, it is said that this is Nazism. But, no, it’s not Nazism. It is Ukraine. It is like that in reality.”


“Two weeks ago my relative was killed. And if you ask, for what or why – there won’t be an answer. Just for fun. Because he was in their way. And also because for them people from Donbass are dead in-advance. Simply because he is from Donbass. We have no rights, including the right to life. I personally left Mariupol already in 2014, when the city was given to Ukrops. The city and half a million population… I supported the militia – I decided not to wait. While he remained. I told him to leave. He didn’t want to. He said that it is my city, my land, I won’t go anywhere. All of us knew what mess there was there. He especially knew. But he was stubborn. And also he didn’t want to leave his grandmother alone. He was still a very young guy. He was studying to be a builder. God rest his soul… How ever horrible it may sound, but if he was killed just for the fact that he is my relative – I at least would understand. But no, it wasn’t so. I wouldn’t understand – I would know the reason. But, like that..”

How did it happen?

“Routinely. According to Mariupol standards. Today’s ones… Some ghouls from ‘Azov’ looked for a dose. They were suffering from withdrawal. Many of them there sit on the needle. And many sat on it even before the war. What do you think – what kind of degenerates are being taken in such places as ‘Azov’? Who can make such a mess? Such is Ukraine, such are its heroes. So they wanted to find a dealer to snatch from him this dose. Where to take it – they, apparently, didn’t know. From where the occupiers can know the local situation? For some reason they aren’t interested in it. So they went outside and caught the first local who crossed their path. And started to torture him. Directly there. Practically on the street. While he also didn’t know who here is the dealer. Most people doesn’t use drugs. And don’t have the address of dealers also. This guy resisted as much as he could. But he then simply pointed a finger at the first acquaintance he saw. The same ‘dealer’ as he is. At his friend, whose address he remembered.”

And it is this one who was your relative?

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“Yes. You know, I don’t even understand if I have to be angry at him or not. I am simply aware that these Ukrop b*stards torture. I saw prisoners who were coming back from them. And then they came to my relative and called him out from the house under some pretext. Dragged him on the waste ground behind the nearest cafe and started to torture. Furiously. Wildly.”

Wait, but the cafe is a public place.

“Absolutely true. They tortured him for at least six hours practically in front of everyone. Half the city witnessed it. And they were afraid to approach, because they knew – if you approach, you will be simply killed, and that’s all. And nothing will happen to them [torturers – ed] for this. One elderly woman, about half a year ago, made a remark to someone from ‘Azov’ on the street, because he behaved bestially. And he simply shot her in the leg. In the patella. The doctors are good guys – they performed several operations, at least they didn’t amputate her leg. And now she is an invalid until the end of her days. It is just for hearing a remark. Here that is what they do with our people. And they were killing my relatives without hesitating. His grandmother called him on the phone to learn where he was, and they answered her, describing in detail how they loosen him up. Well, and then he simply died. What also can be said here?”

What further happened?

“Further, apparently the local police took them. They are afraid of ‘Azov’, but it was already beyond all limits. Especially because there, in reality, there was an ocean of witnesses. They, in fact, during several house were not able to encourage themselves to do it. While they were deciding – the guy died.”

To what extent are they afraid?

“And what do you think? After all, they are the auxiliary policemen, and Banderists are in fact their masters. And ‘Azov’ creates nightmares not only in Mariupol. ‘Azov’, some time ago, was taken out from the city and based in neighboring villages, so they were entering houses and simply said to people: ‘You have three minutes to clear off, you take with you only what you are able to grab, time is ticking’. And expelled people into the field. While it was the winter. Those who managed to reach Donetsk – described all of this to us. They were simply happy that they weren’t killed and nothing was cut off. Usually everything happens not exactly so.”

What was in the police station?

“There was nothing. The ‘white leader’ Biletsky immediately arrived. He even dragged the deputy minister of internal affairs Avakov with him. The cops at first didn’t want to release ‘Azov’, but Biletsky told them that now he will order ‘Azov’ to seize their building and to cut everyone like pigs. And they released these b*stards. The latter were in jail for less than a day, and went to continue their walk. It surprised very few people, actually. Try to understand: what happened to my relative is just an episode. Such things like that occur every other day there – every day. All are horrified. All are shaking in their boots. And all hate this nasty Ukraine with fierce hatred. But they are afraid to say it. Because for each word and for any ‘wrong’ look they can do with the person what ever they want. And they do. And sometimes for no reason. You know… they are occupiers. And they occupy us. Because you can’t behave like that towards your own people. Such things can’t be done to your own. And it means that they themselves don’t consider us as ‘their own’. And that they came here initially precisely in order to create such a mess. Here there can’t be another reason. So this war is not a ‘civil’ one at any point. They want us to not be on this land. Or, that we don’t exist at all. And if it is so, then what in reality can constrain them?

I communicate with people from my city regularly. You know what they tell me? ‘When you will liberate us – don’t come into the city immediately after the Ukrops vanish. Stay nearby for at least one day. Wait it out. And look the other way. We will take care of things here ourselves. Here we know precisely – who, for what, and how’.”

Here are such testimonies from the city of shadows.

I don’t want to comment on what was said. I said – you heard. That’s all.

I want to say only a couple of words to those who, sitting in the rear, try to blame the population of the occupied territories that they don’t stage an uprising.

Firstly, to stage an uprising, as well as waging an effective partisan war, without support from the outside, is very problematic. And the questions on this subject are not for me. If, of course, you really want to ask them. A deep bow to those who even in this situation continue to struggle in the underground.

Secondly, it is rare beastliness to even reproach people who found themselves under furious occupation, being themselves in the rear. In their place, guys, you would sh*t yourselves quicker than everyone else. And, most likely, would run to cooperate with the occupiers.

So just simply shut up.

P.S. I sincerely thank “Forum of the rescue of Mariupol” for the opportunity to receive the information stated in this text.

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