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Newcomer Chronicles

Surviving Mariupol: A Personal Chronicle

By IRYNA PALTSEVA - March 7 2024
Surviving Mariupol: A Personal Chronicle

The serene tranquility of Serhii’s hometown was shattered on February 24, 2022, when Russia unleashed a full-scale war against Ukraine. Bombs rained down on Ukrainian cities, including Serhii’s.  The peaceful streets he once knew transformed into a battleground, with bombs raining down on Mariupol. In the midst of this chaos, Serhii became a witness to the unfolding tragedy. The initial disbelief at the scale of the conflict gave way to a grim acceptance as the sounds of artillery became a hauntingly familiar backdrop, echoing the years of tension since 2014. As the days passed, the city descended into chaos, culminating in the loss of essential services like electricity and water by March 1.

Serhii vividly recalls the escalating panic, with each passing day deepening the darkness enveloping Mariupol. A mobile communication blackout on March 3 intensified the desperation, pushing people to clear out pharmacies and stores for essential supplies. The horror reached its peak on March 4 when the city became a target of relentless bombardment, leaving Mariupol ablaze and its residents scrambling for safety.

Life in ruins

With the gas supply depleted on March 5 due to destroyed pipelines, survival became a daily struggle. Serhii recounts the challenges of securing drinking water, a perilous task that often involved risking one’s life to fetch water from a nearby stream.

Serhii had a happy and peaceful life

As the city endured constant bombing and shelling, temperatures dropped to -12 degrees Celsius by March 9. Adaptation to this new reality required searching for firewood, food, and water amid the ruins of Mariupol. Despite the adversity, Serhii marveled at the resilience of the city’s defenders, expressing admiration for their ability to withstand the relentless attacks.

Amidst the devastation, moments of hope emerged. On March 8, despite the intense bombardment, Serhii and his father attempted to leave the city, encountering unexpected scenes of people with mobile phones in the city center. However, the city’s fate seemed sealed, prompting a realization that Mariupol could no longer be saved.

Tragedy struck on multiple fronts, with friends and neighbors falling victim to the relentless assaults. Serhii witnessed the loss of his friend Denis during a shelling incident, an event that left an indelible mark on his journey.

A Desperate Exodus

As rumors of a “green corridor” circulated on March 14, attempting to leave the city became a gamble with death. Many who tried to escape earlier perished, creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. A fleeting connection with the outside world on March 15 allowed Serhii to learn about the existence of green corridors but offered little solace amid the ongoing chaos.

In an attempt to survive, Serhii joined a group with neighbors and acquaintances. Trying to retrieve a second car for their growing group, Serhii and his father encountered Russian soldiers on March 16. The encounter turned into a tense standoff, resulting in the confiscation of their vehicle.

Determined to escape the besieged city, Serhii and his group embarked on a perilous journey on a damaged car. Their route was fraught with danger, including encounters with wounded individuals desperate to leave the city. This desperate exodus captured the dire reality faced by Mariupol’s residents as they sought refuge beyond the war-torn streets.

Finding Sanctuary in Canada

Serhii’s story takes a hopeful turn when he eventually finds sanctuary in Canada. Escaping the horrors of Mariupol, he rebuilds his life, finding solace and purpose in his new surroundings.

Rather than succumbing to the trauma, he embraced the opportunity to see Canada through a fresh perspective. Time spent in Ottawa became more than a respite; it became a reclamation of life and an affirmation of the enduring human spirit. Serhii found refuge within the Ukrainian community, a collective that not only understood the weight of his experiences but also embraced him as one of their own. Through shared stories and shared hopes, he discovered the power of unity in overcoming adversity.

Serhii did not shut himself off from the world; on the contrary, he found the strength to see beauty in the details. He discovered a new hobby – photographing street art. Over the past year, he has amassed a fascinating collection of Canadian murals.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder

In Serhii’s journey from the ashes of Mariupol to the promise of a new life in Canada, the indomitable spirit of resilience prevails. His story is a testament to the human ability to endure, overcome, and find hope even in the darkest of times.  Serhii’s path became an invitation – an invitation to see, to understand, and, most importantly, to empathize with the collective journey of those who emerged from the shadows of war into the embrace of a new beginning.

This article was written by Iryna Paltseva. She is a Ukrainian copywriter and web developer who relocated to Canada under the CUAET program. You can contact her via email at:

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