Mariupol - Bucha - Kyiv - California: the history of the war in one amazing fate
The story of Daria Babkina is, in fact, a chronicle of all 9 years of the Russian-Ukrainian war, including its last, most terrible year. A native of Mariupol, Dasha had to leave her hometown in 2014 amid the constant threat of war reaching her hometown and separatist provocations. The girl and her family moved to Bucha, then to Irpen and Kyiv, where she was caught by a full-scale invasion of Russian troops. After several weeks under the bombs, Darya managed to leave for the United States, while her family is still in Ukraine to this day. The girl spoke about the war and life in the occupied territories in an exclusive interview with ForumDaily.
Battle for Mariupol
In 2014, Dasha was only 17 years old, and she was finishing her last year at a technical school. It was then that the first pro-Russian separatists began to hold a "referendum" in her native Mariupol on the independence of the so-called "DPR".
«I remember that among its organizers there were many non-local people who did not even know the city. Although, of course, some of the participants were residents of Mariupol. These people regularly watched Russian television and believed the propaganda, so they really believed that they would be better off in Russia. However, a lot of citizens adhered to pro-Ukrainian views, especially young people.", - says Daria.
Before May 9, 2014, residents of Mariupol were warned not to take part in the celebration of Victory Day - visiting militants were preparing provocations. Dasha recalls how the separatists deliberately called for children to be brought to the holiday in order to hide behind them later, as happened in Odessa. The very next day, the girl found out that there really were provocations: on a holiday, skirmishes began in the city.
«The militants killed the father of a boy who studied in a class parallel to me - he headed the local traffic police. An infantry fighting vehicle walked around Mariupol, and militants periodically threw Molotov cocktails. I know that several people died, and someone was simply burned to death or was killed during the fights that day", - says Daria.
At that time, the regular Ukrainian army was still extremely weak, and volunteer battalions arose spontaneously to protect against the Russian invasion. Dasha's father went to one of them as a volunteer. He was wounded in the ATO zone, but, fortunately, he was able to be taken to a hospital in the territory controlled by Ukraine. That year, Ukraine managed to defend Mariupol, but life in the city did not become safe until the end.
«We were very close to the occupied territories. There were battles very close, and in 2015, from Shirokino, the invaders fired on the Vostochny microdistrict, and a lot of people died", - recalls Dasha.
On the eve of the invasion
As a result, in the summer of 2014, Dasha, her mother and brother had to move to Bucha, where their father then came to them from the hospital. At first, refugees from Donbass had to live with other people, but gradually the family got back on its feet, finding separate housing in Irpen. Dasha's father continues to serve, and the girl's mother temporarily got a job in the same military unit. Sometimes Dasha helped them as a volunteer. The girl entered the university, graduated from it and began to work. Life gradually improved. Darya had a boyfriend, and in the last years before the invasion, she moved from her parents to Kyiv. Periodically, the girl came to her native Mariupol, and happily drew attention to how the city had changed in recent years.
«I liked Irpin from the very beginning - it is a very European city. Mariupol began to rebuild on the same principle. I remember how the beaches have changed, which during my childhood were quite abandoned. However, shortly before the invasion, there appeared descents to the sea, modern infrastructure. The project for their improvement was supposed to be completed in the summer of 2022, but, of course, they could no longer", - shares Dasha.
The war found Daria Babkina in a residential area of Kyiv, where she lived at that time. The girl recalls that literally on the eve of the invasion, she went to her family in Irpen and for the first time in a long time walked the streets of the city with her brother. A month before the invasion, Dasha managed to visit her native Mariupol and, without knowing why, she took photographs of all the relatives who remained there. As it turned out, many Ukrainians that night felt a strange need to walk along their favorite streets or see their loved ones, as if they foresaw the war. It was a call from relatives from Mariupol that woke Dasha early in the morning on February 24th. That's how she knew the war had begun.
Escape from Irpen
Daria recalls: in the early days, she had to spend a lot of time in the basement - the air raid raid was very frequent, but people were not used to it yet and were afraid every time. There was a shortage of bread and eggs in stores, but canned food, dumplings and other similar products were still available.
«At first, we still could not distinguish by sound the arrivals and how close the rockets were flying from us. I collected the most necessary documents and slept with a backpack on my back, in a jacket and thermal underwear. It was impossible to relax and sleep. I lay and just looked at the sky, where I could already see the glow from Bucha. I lived, in fact, on the outskirts of Kyiv, close to Irpen, and we were afraid that the invaders could get to us at any moment", - says Dasha.
At first, the inhabitants tried to stay in the cellars. They mostly went up to the apartments to wash their hair, wash themselves or cook food - and often did not have time to do this before a new air raid alert. In the city, residents tried to move in dashes, ran to buy food and again returned to shelters. Lights with the onset of darkness tried to turn off. So Dasha lived for two weeks. Her father was at the front at that time, and her mother and younger brother were in Irpin.
«Volunteers still went there at their own risk, but I was afraid to ask them to take my loved ones out. Cars were often shot at, and I didn't want people to die because of me. Communication in Irpin was almost not caught. Sometimes my mother managed to catch her and contact me, and you could hear from her voice that she was very afraid.", - recalls Dasha.
Relatives of the girl managed to get to Kyiv during the occupation of Irpin. Daria says that they were taken to the destroyed bridge, under which they had to cross the river to the evacuation buses on foot, with a shepherd dog in their arms.
«Mom said later that the dog seemed to understand everything. We were very lucky that at that time he and his brother were no longer living in the same house where they originally settled when we moved to Irpin. Our old housing was bombed, and after the occupation, corpses were found in neighboring houses", - the girl admits.
By the way, returning to Irpin immediately after the liberation of the city was also dangerous. Relatives told Dasha how many mines were found in the city after the occupation troops left. The Russian military mined the beds of civilians, pianos, left mines under the pillow, and so on. Volunteers carried out analysis of the rubble, trying to have time to find the mines before the children blown up on them. However, Dasha's relatives from Mariupol had it even worse.
In Mariupol, Darya was left with her maternal grandparents and paternal grandmother, as well as her aunt and family. At first, there was no connection with them, and the girl did not know if her loved ones were alive. Fortunately, it turned out that they survived, and even lived during the blockade of the city in the same basement, which somewhat facilitated the ordeal that fell. People had to eat pigeons caught in homemade traps, cook food on a fire, melt snow to get water, eat spoiled food and spend most of their time in basements.
«My aunt later said that from fear and stress, my grandmother fainted several times. They all lost a lot of weight, even weaned from the light, and were constantly sick because of the basement dampness. Once my dad brought them army dry rations, and he was also very useful at that time. At this time, I could not contact any of my old friends and did not know if I would ever see them again. Then, when the occupation regime was established in Mariupol, the remaining people were forced to participate in the so-called “referendum", - recalls Dasha.
Later, the girl began to learn about the deaths of some old friends and former classmates. Fortunately, her relatives were able to go to Novoazovsk to visit relatives, and were amazed at how much they were influenced by the Kremlin propaganda. They believed TV much more than their relatives, who survived real hell.
«Grandmothers said later that it was simply impossible to communicate with people who justify the war and so many deaths, calling the President of Ukraine a Nazi. Even accepting help from them in such a situation was hard. They spent several weeks in Novoazovsk, and then through Russia they left for Estonia.", - says Daria.
Road to America
Dasha herself, during the occupation of Bucha and the threat of capturing the capital, left for Lvov. Her young man remained in Kyiv. The company where the girl worked as a designer organized for her employees a trip to Istanbul, and then to Antalya. Meanwhile, Dasha was contacted by her father's friends from California, who offered to take her to America. So quite spontaneously, the decision to move was made.
«From Antalya, I got to Brussels, and then flew to Mexico and crossed the southern border in Tijuana. I was given a humanitarian password, after which I went to San Diego and then to the San Francisco Bay Area", - says Dasha.
Unfortunately, the girl crossed the US border at the same time when Ukrainian refugees were no longer offered TPS - temporary protected status, and the Uniting for Ukraine program had not yet been launched. Such refugees received a one-year humanitarian password, which could be extended in the future. not yet known. However, Dasha has already received a work permit, and in the process of waiting for him, she was actively engaged in English and driving. Now the girl hopes to find a job with a specialty in the field of IT and is trying to establish her already ruined life in a new place, not for the first time.
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