Wounded in the early days of the Russian invasion, Tetiana Burak and her husband holed up for 44 days in a hospital in Mariupol before escaping the martyred city besieged by the Russian army. Now hospitalized in Lviv, in the west of the country, the 57-year-old woman recounts the horror she experienced, the death that threatened to take her away at any moment and the Kafkaesque discussions she had with Russian soldiers, persuaded to come and save the Ukrainians.
In a video interview with The duty From her hospital bed while her husband was undergoing surgery, the lady speaks with composure about the hell she has just extricated herself from. Her words that freeze the blood. “Mariupol has become a huge graveyard”, she breathes her. The tombs can be seen in every garden adjacent to the residential buildings. “
The crosses were hastily erected. Bodies scattered on the streets of the city 95% destroyed. Gutted buildings, charred army vehicles, and burned-down houses robbed the beauty of the city that was home to nearly half a million people before the Russian invasion. “This is not war. It’s a massacre, ”says Tetiana Burak indignantly. “Horror is everywhere. Nobody can imagine it. “
Since the Russian assault began on February 24, Tetiana Burak and her husband had planned to leave the port city. “But our car broke down that very day,” she says, referring to “a sign of fate”. Having struck their neighborhood in the first hours of the war, the woman and the man decided to take refuge with a friend who lives in another part of the city.
“Our apartment was at 11And floor of an apartment tower, he explains. We feared that he was being targeted by the Russians, who were looking for Ukrainian snipers on the upper floors. That’s why the Russians were bombing the apartment towers. “
On the way to this friend’s house on February 27, the car in which Tetiana Burak and her husband were traveling was hit by Russian mortars and shelling. “We have all been injured. Fortunately, Ukrainian soldiers were stationed nearby. “They saved us,” said the English teacher, whose arm was pulverized. “We were all taken to the hospital where we could have been operated on. “
For the next 44 days the injured couple will remain at the Regional Intensive Care Hospital on the outskirts of Mariupol. “The district was heavily bombed,” he reports. The Russians were trying to break through our defense and enter the city through this sector. And that’s what they managed to do in mid-March. “
Hidden in the basement
In their first days in the hospital, Tetiana Burak and her husband were treated in the trauma unit. “All the patients were placed in the corridors, because it was too dangerous to be in rooms with windows,” she says. When the bombs exploded nearby, the windows shattered, as staff feared. “You can imagine how cold she was. There were people seriously injured. It was horrible. “
Over the course of the days, the hospital was hit by several bombs. “All the patients were taken to the basement. My husband and I stayed underground for several weeks. The citizens of Mariupol also came to seek refuge in the building. Hundreds of people were hiding there. The further the siege advanced, the more food and water became scarce. “Some days, the nurses cooked themselves to feed the patients what they found. But it was very little. Sometimes, for several days, we didn’t eat at all, ”recalls Tetiana Burak.
Patients and other residents of Mariupol would sometimes go out to try to find food or water in the city. An extremely dangerous quest. “One day, people went to get water near a church near the hospital, and many died. They were killed while trying to get some water, “says the lady whose apartment was completely destroyed by Russian bombing.
In mid-March, when Vladimir Putin’s troops broke the Ukrainian resistance and entered Mariupol, Russian soldiers also broke through the hospital gates. “They brought with them three Ukrainian soldiers who had been wounded since the beginning of the war. We haven’t seen them since and we don’t know what happened to them. “
The Russian soldiers were then stationed in the hospital. As the bombs rained outside, several patients spoke to them. “The Russians repeated that they had come to free us. People asked them: “but of what?” We were told that the Ukrainian army had been making us suffer for eight years [en 2014, la Russie a annexé la Crimée, et des forces prorusses ont commencé l’occupation d’une partie du Donbass en prétextant que les russophones y étaient persécutés]. “
The elders openly accused the Russian soldiers of destroying their homes, their lives, their families, says Tetiana Burak. “The Russians replied that in a few months everything would be rebuilt. They did not seem at all sorry for killing children and destroying homes. We were told that every building they targeted housed Ukrainian soldiers. “
As the Russians occupied the regional hospital, several bodies of deceased patients were taken to Manhouch, a suburb of Mariupol, where a Russian field hospital has been erected, the survivor said. “Russian soldiers said they have a mobile crematorium [pour brûler les corps des civils ukrainiens] the bass. A thesis supported by the Ukrainian authorities.
The Russians replied that in a few months everything would be rebuilt. They did not seem at all sorry for killing children and destroying homes.
During these forty days in hell, the couple constantly thought about how to organize their escape. “It was a question of survival. Otherwise we would have starved to death or killed by Russian bombs or gunshots. On April 11, as the Russians blocked the entrances and exits of the besieged city, Tetiana Burak and her husband managed to travel along country roads to Nikolske, about 20 kilometers from Mariupol, where they believed buses were evacuating Ukrainians. towards Berdiansk, then Zaporizhia, in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian army.
“But there were only buses going to Donetsk [une ville sous occupation prorusse depuis 2014] and in Rostov-on-Don in Russia. They would not allow people to go to Ukrainian-controlled territories. Several Ukrainians – who had no other options to flee – agreed to go to Russian territory, Tetiana Burak reports. “They made this choice to save their lives and that of their children. “
But before taking that one-way ticket to Russia, Ukrainians have to go through a screening process, during which their phones are examined, as well as any ties they might have with the Ukrainian military and government. . Their fingerprints are also taken, says Tetiana Burak, who speaks of a process that can take several weeks.
“The people I stayed in contact with went through this process and are now living in refugee camps on Russian soil. They tell me that the Russians won’t let them leave these camps, ”she testifies.
Suffering after suffering
To avoid being on Russian soil, Tetiana Burak and her husband managed to keep the services of a private driver who took them to Berdiansk. A second driver then took them to Zaporijjia. “Luckily we have some money left,” she notes. From there, an evacuation train took them to Lviv, where they are currently receiving treatment in the hospital. “My husband is currently undergoing jaw surgery and they put a metal plate in my arm to help him heal. “
This hospital stay also allows them to receive psychological treatment. “It’s very difficult to get through all of this,” says Tetiana Burak. Sometimes, in the middle of the day, we start to cry. Just remember a memory, see a photo or know that a friend is dead. “
Wounds that we do not see, but which are profound. “It is impossible to imagine this level of hatred, it lets the lady move. They kill us because we don’t want to live the way Putin wants us to live. A horror theater that still takes place today in Mariupol and whose ferocity we have not yet finished discovering. “The world needs to know what’s going on. “