Ukraine, in the horror of Mariupol: “We fled, without food and white as ghosts”

They were “very white in the face. And their hands were so white too. Then they weren’t standing I guess due to low blood sugar. They got out of the car with difficulty, and I thought they were really like zombies”. This is how Mariupol survivors appear to those who help them escape from Russian detention camps. One look is enough, they are the ones who drag on and are really bloodless, undernourished, therefore colorless. Survivors in the bombarded city, in the cellars and the shelters, to save themselves from the bombs and the raids, they are now afraid of the dark, of violent noises, of what else could happen to them. Many were evacuated by the Russians, taken first to the Donetsk camps, then to the “filtering” camps in Russia, where they are interrogated and checked (telephones, possible nationalist tattoos, fingerprints).

But someone manages to escape, thanks to a network of Ukrainian drivers, volunteers (including Russians) and refugees, who leave from the Republic of Georgia. The Tbilisi Volunteers group organizes dangerous trips – especially in the Russian section – to finally bring these people to safety. From Taganrog, for example, anonymous Russians drove the fugitives to Rostov, others picked them up and took them by train to Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia. At the station, here is the Georgian driver, who takes them across the border and places them in a first shelter in the south of the country, where they can receive first aid, a bed, food. And real freedom.

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On the night of March 31, one of these transports transferred a family of 8 from Mariupol to Akhaltsikhe, in a deplorable state, as did Masha Belkina, a 20-year-old girl who coordinates the activities of Volunteers Tbilisi. Masha is Russian by birth, but four years ago the family moved to the capital of Georgia and opened a small hotel. It must be explained that the Georgians fear the same fate as the Ukrainians, as well as the Poles, and many men have volunteered to fight the Russians alongside the Ukrainian army. And just at the time of this family’s trip from Mariupol to Georgia, two volunteers returned to their homeland in a coffin. Fallen on the ground, they were called Gia Beriashvili and Davit Ratiani, killed in a fight in Irpin. The body of the third dead, Bakhava Chickbava, has not yet been repatriated. We know that he died in a fight in Mariupol. To welcome the first coffins at the airport, the President of Georgia, Salomé Zurabishvili, has just explained the importance and significance of this country’s presence at the scene of the conflict.

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But back to the Mariupol family, there were eight of them and they were all beaten. With two serious injuries, a 52-year-old woman with shrapnel in three places on her body and another deep leg wound, and her son, who was also hit by shrapnel in the shoulder blade left. In the Russian camp of Bezymennoye where they had met, the doctors had offered surgery, but she had refused, not trusting the “enemy” doctors. They then had surgery in Georgia, and they are doing better. In the transport there was also a very old woman and a son who was carrying a small wooden stool. Masha told him that he was not in the car, to leave him there. And he said earlier that he needed it to make his mother sit down, so as not to tire her too much. Then he confessed that it was the only thing that had been saved from their house, “from our life”.

Russia-Ukraine war, the chronology of the conflict

curated by Flavio Bini and Paola Cipriani



Volunteers Tbilisi has so far transported 2,000 Ukrainians to Georgia. From there, if they wish, we help them to reach Poland, France, Germany. Many remain, hoping to return home soon. Alena Dergachova, a journalist from the independent online newspaper The Village (invisible in Russia, because obscured) visited this family and could not speak to them because “they are in a very serious psychological state”.

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