“Listen to the voice of Mariupol” is a series of stories of people who managed to flee from the besieged city of Mariupol. We continue the series with a conversation with Olia, who witnessed the airstrikes at the maternity hospital on March 9.
Olia was born in the Donetsk region, in the city of Druzhkivka. She moved to Mariupol when she was ten years old. Olia was nine months pregnant at the time of the Russian invasion of Mariupol. She spent four days in the basement before deciding to go to the maternity hospital shortly before her contractions began. The day after Olia’s baby daughter was born, the occupiers dropped bombs on the maternity hospital – where dozens of new mothers and pregnant women were staying – on the pretext that the Azov Battalion and other radicals had seized the hospital. As a result of the airstrike, three people were killed, including one child, and 17 were injured. Olia and her daughter were lucky to escape.
— Until recently, we did not think there would be an attack on Ukraine. We thought all that was fake news. Because this is an abnormal situation that should not have happened in Ukraine. When it all started, we hoped that everything would be fine in three or four days’ time. I had a due date, I could have gone into labour any moment. So I couldn’t just get up and go, because my contractions might have started during the journey.
I got to the maternity hospital on the first of March. My father had sent me away because I’d been sitting in the basement for four days in a row, afraid to go out. The shelling continued. Dad had said, “Olia, what if your contractions start while you’re in the basement? We wouldn’t be able to take you to the hospital”, since there were already problems with transport in the city.
On March 7, my contractions started, but nothing happened. The next day I asked for a Caesarean section. The only doctors at work that day were the ones on duty. Others were in areas more affected by the shelling. The head of the hospital was constantly at work: he was performing operations and helping women give birth day and night. He was barely sleeping at all. On the morning of the 9th, I was transferred to the general ward to rest after the operation. My bed was by the window. And I must have had a premonition: I started asking the nurses to take me to the corridor with no windows. But they just laughed at me: “Calm down, please, don’t start that – it’s not safe anywhere now, just lie down.”
I had a “cocoon” for the baby. I used it to cover the bed because I thought that if the glass flew out of the window, it would not touch my baby. I knelt down to change my daughter’s clothes because I couldn’t bend over. At one point, a towel fell out of my hands. And when I stooped to pick it up, the window flew over my head. The window, the third-floor ceiling, the wall – I remember all that clearly. And the only thing I managed to do was grab my baby and shield her with my body.
Then I jumped to my feet. The exit from the room was blocked. I started breaking down the door so that I could get out. The corridor was completely destroyed. Girls were running from all directions, their faces all covered in blood. Most likely, the shattered glass from the windows had flown straight into their faces. They all had babies in their arms. I rushed out into the corridor and started shouting to the doctors, “Save my baby!” Because I had just had a Caesarean section, I couldn’t stretch. So, half-bent, I hauled my baby into the basement to hide. It turned out that part of the basement had also been destroyed.
At the time of the explosion, there were also refugees at the hospital, from different parts of the city. They had come here because the head of the maternity hospital was receiving everyone, he could not refuse help to anyone. A couple of minutes later, our soldiers arrived, made their way to our basement, and began rescuing women with children and pregnant women. We went outside and saw that the hospital courtyard was not there anymore. Everything had burned, cars were burning everywhere.
When I ran out of the maternity hospital, one of the soldiers helped me take my baby to a police car. He was crying, there were tears in his eyes. He kept saying, “How is it possible? It’s a maternity hospital, there are children.” I asked them to take me home. My parents ran out to meet me. They were shocked, they immediately took my baby from me. Fortunately, the child didn’t have the slightest scratch. I had wounds on my legs from the debris. My newborn baby and I went down to the basement again because the shelling continued. Although it was not in our area, I heard it. I spent all the following days, from the 9th to the 14th, in the basement with my baby, because I began to be afraid of all the loud noises: explosions and machine gun fire. When our neighbours found out that I had had a Caesarean section, they brought me antibiotics. Three pills. I also used Betadine for my stitches — that’s all. I had nothing else on hand, none of the things I needed to take care of myself after the operation. We periodically took the baby out of the basement for five to ten minutes, took her into the banya (sauna — tr.), which was heated, then brought her back to the basement. There was no heating in the building.
I don’t know anything about the other girls who were on my ward at the hospital, since I left my phone, as well as all my documents, in the maternity hospital. So they have either been destroyed by fire or are lying somewhere under the rubble. My passport, my driving licence, my registration documents, my marriage certificate, my wedding ring. I had taken it off before the operation because my fingers were swollen. I had money in my bag. Because when I was getting ready to go to the maternity hospital, I hoped that a humanitarian corridor would be established, so I packed the essentials in case I needed to leave immediately. But there was no humanitarian corridor.
When I gave birth, the city had neither internet nor phone signal. The Mariupol doctors only recorded the birth of my daughter in a paper logbook. They didn’t add me to the database. Now I need to prove that my baby is mine, I need to get a DNA test, because during the shelling, I might have grabbed someone else’s child. I perfectly understand that in a legal sense, all this can happen in real life. But in reality, I hold my baby in my arms and do not understand how I can get at least some documentation to confirm that she is mine.
On the fourteenth of March, a neighbour told my father that the checkpoint towards Melekino had been removed. People confirmed: “Yes, a lot of cars left today.” Dad rushed home and said, “Let’s decide whether or not to leave.” We understood that this was our chance. It could be the last and only chance. There might not be another. We got ready within about five minutes. I was driving, since I am the only one in our family who can drive. There were unexploded mines along the way. We went to the checkpoint, where there were two destroyed armoured personnel carriers. After that, the road was mined. So we drove through a field and prayed the whole way. We were afraid that there would be a plane and an airstrike.
In Melekino, there is a guesthouse called “Troianda”. Some kind people hosted us there. They offered us a room, heated it for the baby, gave us food and drinks. We immediately started calling our relatives who live outside of Mariupol to inform them that we were alive and well. We stayed in Melekino for one night, then we set off again. First, we reached Berdiansk, where we were stuck for four days looking for fuel. Only then we moved on, through Zaporizhzhia, to a village in the Ternopil region where our relatives were waiting for us. My stepmother’s daughter, who was fleeing with her family from Druzhkivka, was also evacuated there. So we were given a whole house, as well as basic supplies and everything we needed for the children.
On the one hand, I am calm now because my baby is safe. She has already been sleeping well for two days in a row. For the first time in the two weeks of her life, she had a bath. It makes me feel better. I understand that I can give my child some comfort. On the other hand, the fear is still there. I don’t believe this will ever end.
I hate the Russian army. Because I have been deprived of my home. I have been deprived of my city. They have deprived my child of a normal childhood. I don’t know where to return with my family now. I still can’t figure out how they could do something like this. It seems to me that even during the Second World War, cities were not destroyed the way they have devastated Mariupol. Now 85% of the city has been destroyed. There is almost nothing left. Only a few districts have survived, but I don’t think they will remain intact for long.
Most of the residents still in Mariupol are aged 50 and over. They aren’t leaving, because they are afraid of looters. They say: “We’ve lived here all our lives, we earned a good living, and now if we leave our apartments, looters will come. And then, if this all ends, are we supposed to return to empty apartments?” Nobody knew this would happen, nobody bought a house in the west of Ukraine just in case. This is why many people are staying in Mariupol and enduring all this: medicine running out, corpses on the streets, the lack of food and water. These people have no other home. No other life. So they are holding on to the last few inches of hope.
At the time of our conversation, on March 23, Olia was already in the Ternopil region with her family. Now she is looking for a lawyer to help her to complete the paperwork for her child and to recover all her lost passports and certificates. If you are prepared to help, get in touch with us on social media via our series “Listen to the voice of Mariupol.”
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