Earound two million citizens of Ukraine have come to Russia in the past few months. They are unfortunate victims of “deportation” – according to the Ukrainian interpretation – or happy beneficiaries of “evacuation”, as the Russian side says. In one case they would be victims of an act of violence, in the other case they would be the beneficiaries of a rescue operation.
Dina Praslova, a teacher from Mariupol, and her 16-year-old daughter Lisa are two such people. Until March, both lived in their birthplace, the port city on the Azov Sea, which once had 400,000 inhabitants. Mariupol was besieged for weeks after the Russian attack; the largest city in Ukraine occupied by Russian troops has now been largely destroyed.
On the phone, Dina and Lisa Praslowa take turns talking about their experiences, almost without showing any feelings. At the end of March, the Russian shelling of their neighborhood began; “In the end, every block of flats was damaged,” says Lisa. Attackers and defenders would have entrenched themselves in residential buildings. “In a ceasefire lasting several hours, we and our neighbors are out of the neighborhood,” she says. The mother adds that it was too dangerous to move to the other parts of the city, which were still contested. That’s why only the easterly direction remained.
Fighters from the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) told the civilians they were organizing an “evacuation”. Where to was unclear. It was followed by a 14 km walk.
Worse than the bombing nights in the basement
“In the end we were at the first destination,” Lisa remembers. “There was already a queue of three to four thousand people waiting there. Two buses came every two hours and took a few, with those desperate who only wanted to get away often violently trying to get a better spot in the line. The rest continued to wait in the cold. We had to wait 24 hours. The DNR fighters guarding us verbally abused us; only when a journalist showed up did they start handing out candy. For me, those hours were the worst in the whole war, worse than the nights of bombing in the basement.”
A bus took the women, as well as Lisa’s father and her 21-year-old brother, about 40 kilometers east along the coast to Novoazovsk in the DNR, which has been “enemy country” and effectively Russian-occupied since 2014. There they were billeted in a school. This was followed by almost a week at two other locations in the DNR and at the end of a procedure ordered by the occupiers in which “suspicious” people are to be “filtered out” in a “filtration camp” in the small town of Starobesheve. Dina and Lisa Praslow, like all inmates, were photographed. They were fingerprinted and handprinted, and their bodies were checked for “suspicious” tattoos.