If we stay here, we will die

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Today the coastal city of Mariupol has been wiped off the face of the earth. But at the end of February, when it was just the beginning of the war, no one could have even imagined that it would end that way. People believed that the shelling would end soon. Therefore, no one was in a hurry to leave the city. Nor was Julia. The Primorsky district, where she lived, had been under fire since the first days of the war. To survive, she and her children hid in the basement of a local school. That basement became their home for almost a month. They stayed there day and night — it was impossible to go outside because the enemy shelling did not stop for a second. Julia says her children still remember the smell of blood in the basement air — it was full of wounded people.

On March 20, bombs hit the upper floors of the school. On that day Julia decided to flee Mariupol. “If we stay here, we will die. If we go, we will have a chance to survive”, she thought to herself. Strangers took Julia and her children to a car. “Only you and your children, no stuff”, that was the condition. The car had broken windows, but that didn’t matter – it was driving. “I left the city with my eyes closed. I didn’t have the strength to look at the devastation around me. Rockets flew past us, shells exploded nearby. I closed my eyes, cried and prayed that my kids and I would get out of this hell alive”, she remembers.


For the first part of the road, they drove without food and water. They got to Berdyansk, then to Zaporozhye. Julia’s friend from western Ukraine sent her some money. That’s how Julia could buy tickets to Lviv for her and her children. The same friend later found information and filled out a form for Julia to travel with volunteers to Sweden. They took the train from Zaporozhye to Lviv and spent the night in a kindergarten there. From there she and her children were taken by bus to Poland, then by ferry to Sweden.


In Linköping, their family was first accommodated in a hotel. But Julia did not live there for long, because 2 days later she was hospitalized with her youngest daughter. The eldest son lived alone in the hotel for a week. The family did not return to the hotel from the hospital because the doctor who treated Julia’s daughter invited them to live in his house. There, Julia was finally able to rest a bit after the horrors of Mariupol, the long road and her daughter’s illness.


But it was time to move on. Julia found the website swedesforukraine.org and called the number she found there. She said she was looking for housing for a family of three in Linköping. Ten minutes later, the owner of a small apartment in Linköping called the same number and asked for help in finding a family from Ukraine. Apparently, miracles do happen to those who need them the most.


A few days later they met and the owner gave Julia the keys to the apartment. Until fall, Julia and her children have a roof over their heads and a place where they can sleep peacefully at night in warm beds. Hopefully dreaming bright dreams that will help them erase their memories and terrible pictures of the basement filled with wounded bodies and that salty smell of the blood, that she and her kids will have a hard time forgetting.