‘Graves of killed civilians in every yard’ — Yurii Liapkalo, Mariupol

Yurii Liapkalo and his three-year-old son Hlib tried to survive almost two months under constant shelling without normal food, water, heat, or communication.
Oleksandr Vasyliev30 June 2024UA DE EN ES FR IT RU

When the full-scale invasion began, I lived with my three-year-old son Hlib, my girlfriend, and her 15-year-old daughter. It was generally unclear what was happening in the first days of the war. Nobody believed in it, and people said it was impossible. There were already battles on the city’s left bank, but there were only echoes on ours.

But then we began to notice that people were collecting things and running. Every day, even every hour, this cannonade became closer and closer, and there was nowhere to go because there was no talk of any evacuation measures; no one knew anything. Later, there was no water, communications, gas, or electricity. The Stone Age has arrived. Pogroms in shops began, and people stole everything. They took everything they could. We lived on the fourth floor, but we never went down to the basement; we didn’t want to die underground.

Юрій Ляпкало зі своїм сином Глібом Yurii Liapkalo with his son Hlib Юрий Ляпкало с сыном Глебом

Yurii Liapkalo with his son Hlib

The temperature in the apartment was sub-zero, and we were freezing. Meals were cooked with neighbors in the yard over a fire. It happened that we came under fire while we were preparing food. One day, there was heavy shelling; everyone hid, and I ran out into the street to pick up soup from the fire. I had to feed my son, but there was no other food.

Then, when the situation worsened, and the house shook from constant heavy shelling, we decided to go a little further to where it was quieter. My aunt and grandmother, my cousin, and my godson lived there. One family left the apartment there, so we moved in.

As they say, we went hunting daily: we looked for provisions, at least something. We had no water, and the well was two kilometers away in the private sector. When we went there to get water, it was a one-way ticket. We were walking one day, and there were corpses of civilians lying around. They died during the shelling. And you also don’t understand whether you will return or not. When there was absolutely nothing to eat, we ate pigeons. At least some meat, and we cooked some broth... And if it rained, we collected rainwater.

Трирічний Гліб у зруйнованому Маріуполі навесні 2022 року Three-year-old Hlib in the destroyed Mariupol in the spring of 2022 Трехлетний Глеб в разрушенном Мариуполе весной 2022 года

Three-year-old Hlib in the destroyed Mariupol in the spring of 2022

One day, my cousin and I went to the Bus Station-2 market. People had already taken out everything that could be taken out there, but I found a few apples, a pack of tea, tights for my son, and wet wipes, which were very important because there was nowhere to wash up. And while we were digging through things in the market, suddenly, two orcs [Ukrainian name for the Russian army] came out.

“Citizens — marauders, line up!” — they said and fired a burst of machine guns into the air. We all lined up, and they started checking documents, but I didn’t have them with me.

One of the Russian soldiers began to threaten to shoot me and fired a burst of machine-gun fire at my feet. Then they forced me to my knees, searched me, hit me, and then released me. When we were returning home, we came under fire.

Over time, there was no food, and the pigeons no longer flew. We also had a dog but didn’t eat it because it was ours. Then we decided to look for food somewhere else. We learned that Russians supposedly handed out humanitarian aid near the Metro supermarket. We decided to go there; otherwise, we would starve to death. We walked for four hours, and there was devastation all around, a lot of corpses, graves in every yard... We entered territory occupied by the Russians. By the way, there was a lot of talk about the Ukrainian military shooting at civilians. This didn’t happen! I walked past them, particularly the Azovites [milllitary from the Azov brigade], and no one said anything or touched anyone.

In the end, we reached the “Metro”, where part of the city was destroyed. I was once in Pripyat, and this is a thriving city compared to the destroyed Mariupol. It was simply terrible there now: no one removed the corpses, and there was a lot of broken military equipment. Well, it’s war...

Маріуполь, весна 2022 року Mariupol, spring 2022 Мариуполь, весна 2022 года

Mariupol, spring 2022

When we got to the Metro, we were told there would be no humanitarian aid that day. We were left hungry and had to spend the night somewhere, but we couldn’t go back to the apartment because it was a three-four hour walk, and we had our grandmother with us, who might be unable to do it.

There were some food warehouses nearby. We went there to spend the night, climbed into some cell, and suddenly we saw a corpse “sitting” about 20 meters from us. What could we do with it?

In the morning, we woke up and returned to the Metro. They said that there would be no humanitarian aid today either. We went back.

I would also like to say something about aviation. It was terrible. After leaving Mariupol, my son, hearing some roar in the sky, began to look for shelter. They bombed horribly, and they threw bombs anywhere, hitting the residential sector, where there were no military or infrastructure facilities. That was scary.

Маріуполь, весна 2022 року Mariupol, spring 2022 Мариуполь, весна 2022 года

Mariupol, spring 2022

Then we learned that buses were leaving the city for Taganrog. We went, stood in line, and got on that bus; the crowd was terrible. All men were asked to get out and line up at the first checkpoint. Everyone was taken into a carriage for a conversation. I went last because the kid kept jumping out of the bus and shouting: “Daddy, daddy!”

In the end, they checked the phone and asked what kind of child was with me. Then they didn’t like that my phone was too clean, and the threats started, particularly with execution. They beat me and let me go. While driving from Mariupol, we saw the light from a lantern in one of the villages, and my boy asked: “Dad, what is this?” Imagine how we have become unaccustomed to the light.

We stood at customs all night. People who seemed suspicious were separately called for filtering. But everything worked out; we went to Taganrog, where my friends came for me and took us to Sevastopol, from where we left for the Czech Republic.

Let us recall that on August 28, the human rights initiative T4P presented a submission to the International Criminal Court, which it substantiates that Russia committed genocide in the Ukrainian Mariupol. The authors of the presentation estimate the death toll as a result of Russia’s capture of Mariupol at approximately 100,000 people.

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