My name is Nikita. I am 22 years old. I was born and grew up in the city of Donetsk. Unfortunately, when Russia occupied Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk in 2014, my family and I had to leave our home and beloved city and move to Ukrainian-controlled territory.
At that time, we could not believe that such violence and murders were possible in the 21st century. That people would be killed by bullets and shells. We returned home to Donetsk several times in the past eight years because we couldn’t believe that our home was taken away from us. We believed to the very last moment that things would get better. But unfortunately, we realized that there were no prospects there.
We moved to Mariupol and started from scratch, believing that sooner or later, Donetsk would become Ukrainian and we would be able to return home. In Mariupol, I began to work and develop myself. It was difficult, but we managed to build a normal life. There was no pressure on us. I talked both in Russian and Ukrainian without any problems, and no one ever told me anything.
February 24, 2022, changed our lives for the second time. The war came to our house again, and we were displaced for the second time. The situation in the city rapidly deteriorated, and the very next day in Mariupol on the Left Bank, where we lived, electricity and water were gone. We went to fetch water under the sound of shelling and bombing.
The situation became critical in early March when massive shelling began on the Left Bank of Mariupol, and it became impossible to stay in the apartment. On March 3, our car, which was parked next to the house, came under fire, and later the cell phone service completely disappeared.
The only way to get a cellular connection was through our neighbors, who had Vodafone reception on the ninth floor near the window. At the time, we wanted to get on the phone to say we were alive or to contribute to the evacuation to the center of Mariupol in some way, but it was impossible.
One time, while we were getting a cellular network from a neighbor, a shell landed on the 9th floor of the building across the street. That’s when we realized we might be next and needed to move to a more secure shelter. My dad worked at Azovstal and said there was a good shelter there.
When we left the house early in the morning of March 5th, it was quiet, but in the middle of the road, we came under massive artillery fire. We had to hide in apartment buildings to save our lives. And that is how we managed to get to our destination.
At the Azovstal checkpoint, they wouldn’t let us in. The plant was under full control of the Ukrainian military, and by March 5th, they had stopped allowing civilians in because of the great danger. Already near the plant, we met a man named Anatoly, who took us to a shelter in the plant’s territory, which was a workshop of a local school. We lived in a cold, dusty, damp cellar for 13 days. We cooked on a campfire and searched for food in a store that was no longer working. There was a real humanitarian disaster in the city.
The situation in Mariupol was getting worse by the day. Massive shelling of Azovstal had begun. On March 18th, the military came to our shelter and told us that we could evacuate to Melekino [21 km from Mariupol], and we agreed without hesitation.
It turned out that some people from our shelter had managed to hide their cars, and they were miraculously intact. The eight of us in one car decided to try to leave Mariupol.
We drove through the broken city. It is difficult to describe in words what we saw in place of the once beautiful Mariupol. On the way, we came under fire, and as we lined up to leave the city, we heard the sounds of air raids. Later it turned out that it was one of the heaviest bombardments of Azovstal and the port of Mariupol.
Leaving Mariupol, we drove to Mangush [20 km from Mariupol], where we went our separate ways with our fellow travelers. Fortunately, they helped us on the way and drove us to Berdyansk without taking a penny.
When we arrived in Berdyansk, we knew right away that we had to move on, but it was virtually impossible to enter Ukraine. First of all, all humanitarian corridors were regularly shelled, and evacuation buses were unstable. Then we decided that we had to go to EU territory, and for that, we had to go to Russian territory.
We were lucky enough to find a carrier that drove from Berdyansk to Simferopol. On the way to occupied Crimea, 18 Russian checkpoints were waiting for us, and at each checkpoint, they checked our cell phones and asked us if we had fought or not. It was a hell of a humiliation.
After passing through the so-called customs, we entered Crimea, took the train to Moscow, then went to St. Petersburg, and from St. Petersburg, we went to the border with Finland.
The Russian border was very hard because they were mocking us. I was interrogated for 4 hours, and my dad was interrogated for 3 hours. I was accused of being a foreign agent and working for some special services, and my father was accused of allegedly having fought.
The border guards were looking through the cell phones up to the point where they just took them apart. Then there was cross-examination about what our relationship was to the “special military operation,” who would win in it, and what I had been doing since February 24.
But we were able to endure it and finally made it to Finland. The local border guards greeted us with warmth in their hearts, understanding what we had been through. Seeing how tired we were after crossing the Russian border, the Finns immediately offered to help us. This is the way we got to Helsinki.
That’s how I became a refugee for the second time in my life. To all those who ask where we were for the past 8 years when Donbas was being bombed, I would like to say that before the full-scale invasion of Russia, not a single shell landed in the center of Donetsk, and Mariupol was wiped off the face of the earth in a matter of weeks.