Ukrainian Refugees Bring Stories of Bombings, Destroyed Cities, and Hunger

Yulia Bondarieva endured ten days in a cellar while Russian bombers hovered overhead and bombs fell on Kharkiv, Ukraine. Bondarieva’s main hope now that she is safe in Poland is for her twin sister in the besieged city of Mariupol to escape as well.

“They’ve been in the basement since February 24 and haven’t come out,” Bondarieva claimed. “They’re out of food and water,” says the narrator.

Bondarieva, 24, just spoke with her sister on the phone. The worry of what may happen to her in the besieged and bombed-out city, which is seeing some of the war’s most intense combat, has been overpowering.

“She has no idea how to get out of the city,” Bondarieva said after landing in Medyka, Poland’s border town.

Mariupol had a population of roughly 430,000 people before the conflict, and about a quarter of them fled quickly after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Later, getting out of the beleaguered city became practically impossible. Thousands have fled through a humanitarian corridor in the last week, notably 3,000 on Monday, while other attempts have been prevented by fighting. Several thousand Mariupol people were allegedly deported to Russia without their will, according to the Mariupol City Council.

Bondarieva said that her sister warned her about “Russian soldiers strolling throughout the city” in Mariupol, and that residents were not permitted to leave.

“Civilians are unable to flee,” she stated. “They don’t give them anything,” says the narrator.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Monday that Russian shelling along a humanitarian corridor had wounded four children who were among those being evacuated, highlighting the perils for people attempting to leave. According to him, the shelling occurred in the Zaporizhzhia district, which was the first stop for refugees leaving Mariupol.

On Monday, Russian and Ukrainian forces fought block-by-block for control of the important port on the Azov Sea. It is unknown how many people have perished in Mariupol so far. On March 15, city officials said that at least 2,300 people had been slain, some of them were buried in mass graves. There has been no official estimate since then, but after six more days of shelling, the figure is expected to be substantially higher.

Maria Fiodorova, a 77-year-old Mariupol refugee who arrived in Medyka on Monday, estimates that 90 percent of the city has been devastated. She stated, “There are no structures there (in Mairupol).”

After the sound of bombardment and death in Mariupol, Maryna Galla found hearing the birds chirp when she landed in Poland to be pleasant. Galla and her 13-year-old son Danil went for a walk at Przemysl’s park. She intends to travel to Germany next.

“It’s finally improving,” Galla added.

According to the United Nations, approximately 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, the greatest refugee exodus in Europe since World War II.

Valentina Ketchena came in Przemsyl on Monday via rail. She never imagined that she would be forced to leave her house in Kriviy Rig at the age of 70, and that the town in southern Ukraine would be nearly abandoned as residents fled the Russian invasion for safety.

According to Ketchena, Kriviy Rig is currently “half empty.” She’ll be staying with friends in Poland for the time being, with the hope of returning home soon. “Everyone is going through a terrible period.”

Zoryana Maksimovich is from Lviv, a city in western Ukraine near the Polish border. Despite the fact that the city has witnessed less damage than others, Maksimovich said her children were terrified and sobbed every night when they had to go to the basement for safety.

“I told my kids we were going to see some friends,” the 40-year-old explained. “They don’t comprehend what’s going on, but they’ll ask me about their father’s whereabouts in a few days.”

Maksimovich, like other refugees, had to go without her husband since males between the ages of 18 and 60 are prohibited from leaving the country and have stayed to fight. “I’m not sure how I’m going to explain it,” she said.

Refugees can register for a local ID number after they arrive in Poland, which allows them to work and access health, social, and other services. Irina Cherkas, a 31-year-old mother from the Poltava district, expressed concern that Russian assaults may target her children.

“We decided to leave Ukraine for the safety of our children,” she explained. “As soon as the battle is over, we’ll return home.”

Poland has taken in the majority of Ukrainian refugees, totaling more than 2 million. Ukrainian performers performed at a charity event in Poland on Sunday evening, raising more than $380,000.

The evening’s highlight was a 7-year-old Ukrainian child, whose video of her performing a song from the Disney film “Frozen” in a Kyiv bomb shelter went viral and drew worldwide compassion.

Amellia Anisovych, who fled to Poland with her grandmother and brother, performed the Ukrainian national song in a clean, lovely voice while tens of thousands of people in the crowd waved their smartphone lights in response.

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