To Defenders of Freedom

Victoria, a resident of Mariupol, rescued her cousin, her husband and an elderly couple, and twice escaped alive from the city

On February 24, Victoria Slepchyk was with her daughter in Kyiv. The father, Volodymyr, was taking care of 80-year-old grandmother with dementia at home. In early March, he called every few days; he was able to get a signal near a mobile operator’s office. Every day, the man walked for half an hour under active fire to see a grandmother. The last time he called was on March 17. Volodymyr managed to connect to the mobile network in the apartment and told them about the Russian tank that was just in the yard. After two weeks without any news, Ilona’s mother went to see her husband.

Victoria miraculously found fuel in reserve, bought a push-button phone, and took some cash. She spent a night in Zaporizhzhia and in the morning, went to Mariupol. She was not allowed into the city, so she went to visit relatives in Urzuf, a nearby Greek village. As soon as the woman drove into the yard of relatives, her younger cousin ran out to her — her older sister had had a stroke. Victoria quickly put the older cousin in the car and took her all the way to a hospital in Donetsk. They drove through 25 checkpoints, a field, and past an armored personnel carrier to save her relative.

Then there were a few more attempts to get into Mariupol. Victoria constantly had to persuade the military to let her enter towns and villages. The woman drove to her hometown with friends and returned by hitching a ride. She left the car in relatively safe Mangush. A few days later, she called her daughter Ilona and said that her father had refused to leave. As it turned out, the man had not managed to bury a grandmother and could not take her body due to the shelling.

On the way to Mangush, an Italian journalist gave Victoria, her cousin, and another relative a ride. The woman recalled that it was in Rome in 2014 that she learned from a waiter in a cafe that Russia had attacked Ukraine. Then the relatives were picked up by a priest, who asked Victoria to give a ride to a couple he had taken out from under the rubble. As it turned out, while in the basement, the couple’s legs had begun to blacken, and there was the threat of gangrene — Victoria decided to take them to Zaporizhzhia immediately. When they arrived, the shelling began, and they had to turn into a nearby village. There, strangers sheltered them, fed them, and let them stay for a night. In the morning, the elderly couple was reunited with their son in Zaporizhzhia.

Nevertheless, Victoria decided to go back for her husband and was able to convince him to leave. The couple took the family photo albums and a painting from their home. Most of all, the woman was constantly afraid of ending up in a filtration camp, but she kept telling herself that if she had managed to get out of Mariupol alive, nothing else was impossible. She managed to get out twice.

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