My war diary. A taxi ride of grief

9 May, 12:37 PM

While in Lviv I got a taxi ride with a driver from Mariupol. My taxi application has defined him as Serhiy.

He and his family managed to leave the port city before the Russians encircled it on March 1.

He had a baby chair in the back seat. In Lviv he had t join Bolt taxi to make a living.

With a population of 400,000,  Mariupol, the port city on the Sea of Azov isn’t just on the news throughout the world. It is on our minds. If there is a hell on earth, it is in Mariupol. 

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So it was natural I wanted to talk with him about it. He said 95% of flats in the city, including his own, were destroyed. Up to a hundred people, he knew personally were killed.

He said he gathered information through those who survived – both staying in and out of Mariupol. The thing that surprised me was that he wasn’t emotional. Maybe, he has become apathetic or just didn’t want to offload the burden on me.

What astonished me most was that he was planning to come back to rebuild Mariupol.

“If it stays in Ukraine,” he added. I know a lot of people who have emotional reservations about coming back to their cities that suffered a way less destruction. Tears appeared in my eyes. All I could do is pay a double price for the trip.

One of the reasons Russians were pushing so hard to get control of Mariupol is that Vladimir Putin is paranoid to declare at least a small victory for domestic consumption on May 9, a victory day that has become a major part of Russian mythology. The other reason is less obvious.

Russians are reluctant to let the world see the consequences of their atrocities in Mariupol.

By different estimates, the Russian offensive will leave from 10,000 to 30,000 dead civilians in the city. So it be might Bucha multiplied by 20.

Here, at the other end of Ukraine in Lviv life has almost returned to normal.

The city, where the population grew by 30% since the start of the war, saw all of its shops, bars, and even movie theaters open.

I was finally able to buy a winter coat – I left Kyiv in a hurry and only had a light jacket with me that I purchased two years ago in Berlin.

I normally wear an L size but was happy to settle for an XL coat in a Turkish store after waiting in line of 30 people. “Take whatever we have, - the sales lady said. – Soon we won’t have even this.”

The alcohol ban in Lviv is now lifted – except for hard liquor – so restaurants and bars got filled with an international crowd of foreign journalists and locals who relocated from other large cities to Lviv.

Customers appeared even in jewelry stores – I have no idea why would you need a gold chain during the war.

During the weekends a huge parking lot by a major shopping mall from where we used to broadcast gets completely packed. The only thing that can send everybody home and quickly is an air raid siren.

Most of the visitors would stay, I guess, but, according to a war protocol, all stores close down immediately and all personnel run to shelter. Russian missiles still attack Lviv.

At the same time, I learned that my summerhouse north of Kyiv in the village of Nova Bohdanivka (New Bohdanivka) was robbed by the Russian soldiers.

The house I spent so much time and energy on doing a renovation, building a terrace, and planting bushes and trees. The house where my family spent most of our weekends and nine months during Covid. At least, the Russians didn’t burn it.

New Bogdanivka was at the frontline and a site of heavy fighting for a month. I learned about all the developments there from a Telegram channel that united all residents of our 250-house community.

Most of us left for other parts of Ukraine or at least Kyiv. But some stayed and they were struggling for life. They were hiding in the basements trying to give as little detail as possible to the rest, fearing information could leak.

At some point, a village resident published a photo of my neighbor’s SUV dotted with bullets.

His son recognized his father’s car in the photo and begged everybody in the Telegram for help. It was a terrifying moment for the group. Nobody could do anything and everybody knew it was our neighbor. Later we learned that he died.

Our cottage village got lucky. One of our people was killed and all of our houses survived but were looted by Russians, or Orcs, as they are universally referred to in our Telegram group.

Neighboring village Bohdanivka got less lucky. Every third house was smashed completely by heavy artillery fighting and the village itself became a subject of a terrifying report by an independent Russian site Meduza, headquartered in Latvia.

Meduza ran a scary story about multiple murders and rapes by the Russian forces in Bohdanivka. That was when we understood that we, in New Bohdanivka, have nothing to complain about. 

Ok, I could understand why would a looter steal money or jewelry but why would a person take home somebody else’s used clothes or forks?

My neighbors started uploading photos from their security cameras on the group messenger. It turned out Russians were stealing from our houses anything from carpets and vacuum cleaners to used clothes and forks. Some of them were using bicycles to pull suitcases full of different rubbish.

“The second army of the world”, as my neighbors described them sarcastically, turned out to be a bunch of impoverished bums. Some of the New Bogdanivka residents who managed to talk to invaders briefly discovered most of the Russians in our village came from North Caucasus, Siberia, and the Far East. Some of them admitted they saw asphalt on TV only. Wanted he or not, Putin has effectively conducted a special operation to show the whole world the extent of poverty and degradation of the Russian army. Sorry, all of the Russian people, at least, those who live in the provinces.

I am still to discover the level of destruction in my house. It is too early to check. Russians left booby traps in and mines around the village. I am terrified when I think how my eight-year-old twins Peter and Anna will now go there for a walk.  

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