"Hospital burned down to the ground; my mother was there. Then, I was deported to the "DPR." Story of one deportation
5 May, 2022

Nadiia Savenko (on the right) with her mother / Photo: the personal archive of Nadiia Savenko

More than 30,000 Mariupol residents have already been deported to the territory of the Russian Federation since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian occupiers first take people to filtration camps and then to Russian cities. 

That scenario could have happened to 19-year-old Nadiia Savenko. Nadiia's father was killed in the shellings near his own apartment, her mother died from injuries, and the girl herself was deported to the "DPR" from the hospital's bomb shelter. 

"There was no panic. It seemed like everything we were doing was in vain"

My parents and I couldn't even imagine war would break out. We didn't watch the news, we were so far from politics. When someone tried to talk with me about war, I said I didn't want to hear it. I didn't believe it could start. 

My parents and I didn't believe it even when we heard the first explosions on February 24. I was home that day. My mother went to work at the factory but returned a few hours later. All the women were excused from work to withdraw cash and buy groceries. 

There was already a queue at the ATM, but we never managed to withdraw cash — the ATM ran out of money.

We still had some cash, so we bought some groceries, as usual, the next day. We were in this mood when it seemed like everything we were doing was in vain. We didn't panic.

"We no longer heard the sound of the factory. Only the sounds of the shots"

In a few days, my father had to take his shift. He and my mother worked together at Metinvest mining company. 

Dad hadn't even gotten to his workshop when he received a phone call and was told to return home. No one needed to go to work anymore. Then we realized that something really bad was happening. 

Illich Steel and Iron Works stopped, we no longer heard sounds of the factory working, only explosions that became louder every day. The city was shelled from all sides: Livoberezhnyi Districs, 23rd micro district. 

Over time, water and power supply and phone connection were cut off, so we didn't have access to the news. We had to drain drinking water from the batteries.

House yard after the shelling in Mariupol / Photo: provided to Hromadske

Life in the basement

On March 9, a missile hit our building, damaging a neighbor's apartment on the floor above, but ours survived.

My parents spent the night in the far room, which they could quickly leave. I was sleeping in the basement. We made a bed there, brought a blanket and a nightstand. It almost looked like a full-fledged room. I only visited the apartment to wash my face. 

We cooked food outside. We often gathered together with our neighbors, talked, drank tea, watched family albums, remembered life stories, and played cards. We distracted ourselves from the war. 

The truth is that it was getting more horrifying every day. We heard missiles launched from the city. They were so strong that the house was shaking. But we knew that if there were attacks launched from the city, then the response would arrive in an hour or two. 

Was it possible to leave the city? Sometimes we got information that evacuation was being conducted somewhere in other city areas. We didn't have our own car. And we didn't want to go somewhere in the unknown, we are settled people. We felt bad about leaving the apartment and pets. We hoped to wait out and then move somewhere.

Nadiia Savenko's house after shelling / Photo: provided to Hromadske

"I saw my father from the broken kitchen window"

On March 29, we were sitting outside, as usual, cooking food. I was reading a book. Suddenly we heard loud shots near our building. I immediately ran into the basement to the neighbors. My parents came in later. 

Suddenly, something started burning. We were suffocating from the smoke. My father ran outside to bring a fire extinguisher. My mother followed him. At that very moment, another strike happened. A few minutes later, I heard dreadful cries — my mother was screaming. She was begging for help. I tried to go outside, but suddenly the building was hit again. I wouldn't have had time to run back. Everything was burning, falling into pieces, there was nothing to breathe. 

After making sure that everything was quiet, my neighbors and I ran outside. My mother was injured.

Neighbors moved her to the basement, examined her, collected the necessary things and documents, and ran to the bomb shelter in a neighboring house. We lived near the first entrance gate of the Illich plant. Four-story buildings around were built for plant employees before World War I. The bomb shelters there were safe and secure. 

We spent the night there. The next morning, I found a friend to visit my house together. I didn't know what had happened to my father all this time. Finally, I saw my dad from the broken kitchen window. He was lying dead in the front garden near our house.

Nadiia Savenko's parents / Photo: the personal archive of Nadiia Savenko

"We were told the hospital burned down to the ground, no one survived"

When I got back to the bomb shelter, people were about to carry my mother to a nearby hospital. I took the documents because I already thought I didn't come back.

There were only a few doctors in the hospital, the wards were crowded, and the number of people in the corridors was countless. The Traumatology Department where my mother was placed was still intact. 

But as soon as she had been moved to the ward, the shelling began. There were three women with my mother, they were lying down, covering themselves with what was at hand. I sat in the corner, waiting for the shelling to end. When I looked out into the corridor, I saw broken glass everywhere. 

I quickly found a bomb shelter. There were so many people sitting inside that there was no room to make even a step. We couldn't have moved my mother there. She had a broken leg, and only injured people were left in the hospital who simply could not carry and move her. 

I found a guy who agreed to give my mother injections in the bomb shelter. So we went to her ward every day. I only gave her a drink because of a jaw injury, she couldn't eat.

On April 2, the sheeling hit Traumatology Department again, causing a fire on all floors and the basement. We almost suffocated from the smoke. Many injured, wounded, those who could not stand on their feet, schoolchildren, and newborns were with us. We took a chance and ran out to another bomb shelter.

My mother was in the Department that was shelled. We were told the hospital burned down to the ground, no one survived. I didn't dare go up there.

Building in Mariupol after an airstrike / Photo: provided to Hromadske

Evacuation to the "DPR"

On April 5 or 6, I can't remember exactly, in the evening, we were told to evacuate. Frightened people in the bomb shelter waited on suitcases all night. 

On the morning of the next day, we were taken by buses to the "DPR." There was no chance to survive in the bomb shelter, everyone realized that we were running out of food. Besides, there were many sick and wounded people who had to treat and bandage each other. 

First, we were taken to the city of Sartana. Then to Novoazovsk, where we lived at school for three days. It seemed like we finally reached civilization: there were water, food, and shops. 

Then we arrived in Starobesheve, where we had to pass the filtration process. We spent two days in a local House of Culture. There was no water, no beds, nothing. We slept on chairs waiting for our turn. 

Filtering took place nearby in the Regional Police Department. That's what the process looked like: a person came to us, announced surnames, and said we should go. A group of 5-7 people went to the police station, and others waited for their turn. I was one of the last to go. 

At the police station, they took our fingerprints, took photos, asked us to fill out a questionnaire where we had to indicate who we were with and provide minimal information about our relatives. Of course, they asked provocative questions, for example, what are our opinions on the Ukrainian Army. 

During filtration, I was called to the office on the upper floor, where I was handed over to the military and taken to a military base in the middle of the night. My phone was left at the police station. 

There was information that someone from Russia or Donetsk was allegedly looking for me. I still don't know who it could have been because I have no relatives there. They let me go in the morning. 

Nadiia Savenko's parents. Her father died on March 29. Her mother died on April 4 / Photo: the personal archive of Nadiia Savenko

"I would like to return to Mariupol"

While I was undergoing the filtration process, my relatives, with the help of friends, had already started arranging my transfer to Romania. I was taken from Starobesheve to Novoazovsk. From there, I was moved to the Russian border. There I had to provide a 'card' confirming I passed the filtration process. 

In Russia, I lived for a few days with an acquaintance from Rostov-on-Don. He helped me to get on a plane to Turkey, and from there, I went to Romania to my aunt. 

If it weren't for my family, I do not know what I would have done in the "DPR." Buses to separatists-occupied Donetsk or Russia were constantly arriving at the House of Culture. The guy who gave my mother injections was taken to Voronezh. 

After the end of the war, I would like to return to Mariupol to visit relatives, my parents' grave, and our apartment.   

Recently, my mother's friend from Mariupol, who is still there, reached me via a phone call. She told me that my grandmothers and uncle buried my parents. 

I thought that my mother died in a fire on April 2. But recently (April 30, ed.), my grandmother said that my mother survived that shelling. After the fire, she passed the note through a man I don't know. He found my grandmother, and she was with her until her last day, April 4.