‘They made me put on makeup and say we were fine’ How a Ukrainian doctor survived Azovstal with her four-year-old daughter — followed by months in a POW camp

Interview by Shura Gulyaeva. Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale.In 2014, 27-year-old Victoria Obidina moved from Ukraine’s Donetsk area to Mariupol and started working as a paramedic, and in 2021, she signed a contract to turn out to be a navy doctor. At that begin of this yr, Victoria and her four-year-old daughter, Alisa, were planning to go to Egypt for what would have been their first journey overseas. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion, nevertheless, Victoria was despatched to work on the Azovstal iron and metal works, and in May, whereas attempting to flee with her daughter to Zaporizhzhia, she was captured by Russian troops and taken to a POW camp in Olenivka. On October 17, Victoria and 107 different girls returned to Ukraine as a part of a prisoner change. She spoke to Meduza about her time in Azovstal, the bonds she developed with the opposite prisoners in Olenivka, the violence she confronted from Russian troopers, and her launch from captivity.’She’d at all times needed to be a doctor like her mother’On March 10, when the opposite paramedics and I arrived at Azovstal, it nonetheless wasn’t outfitted [as a shelter]: we arrange sleeping quarters and a kitchen and stocked it with meals and remedy ourselves. Wounded troopers began arriving nearly instantly. I’d by no means seen wounds like that in my life; this was my first expertise [working as a military doctor]. Until May, I labored across the clock; I by no means knew if it was day or night time outdoors.At first, my daughter lived with family not removed from Azovstal. In late March, although, we began shedding contact with the skin world: telephones stopped working and shops all through Mariupol began operating out of meals. By then, it was already too late to depart town, so I made a decision to have Alisa come dwell with me. A man from Azov we knew introduced her, and actually two days later, he was killed by a sniper. I don’t know his title or his name signal — he was simply a man who helped me. I’ll be grateful to him for the remainder of my life.In Azovstal, Alisa and I studied letters and numbers. One day, she stated, “Mom, I’m bored. Can I come provide help to?” And she began giving out drugs [to patients] — which saved me nearly an hour of labor. She’d at all times needed to develop up sturdy, like her mother, and turn out to be a doctor — and now she had expertise.‘Who are the fascists right here?’ Free from Russian captivity, Azovstal defender Mykhailo Dianov tells his story‘Who are the fascists right here?’ Free from Russian captivity, Azovstal defender Mykhailo Dianov tells his storyAt some level in late April, we were being shelled so intensely that Alisa requested me, “Mom, is that this our final day?” It did appear to me that our lives were over, however you may’t inform a little one that. So I instructed her that the whole lot can be okay and that we would get out of Azovstal alive. At that time, the Red Cross had began organizing “inexperienced corridors” to [Ukraine-controlled] Zaporizhzhia, and since I had a little one, they tried to get me out on my commander’s orders.On May 5, we were taken by a [humanitarian] hall by the [self-proclaimed] DNR. When we arrived in the village of Bezimenne, [occupation officials] took me in for questioning in a tent camp. They stated I wouldn’t make it by “filtration” [as a military doctor] and that my daughter can be taken to a kids’s shelter [in Russia]. I requested them to at the least let me take care of her for the following two days, till the humanitarian convoy continued on to Zaporizhzhia, [and they agreed]. In the filtration camp, I met a girl who supplied to assist take Alisa to Zaporizhzhia. From there, Alisa’s uncle was imagined to convey her to my mom in Poland — she had moved there final yr, earlier than the battle. I wrote the girl a letter of legal professional, and on May 7, I walked Alisa to the bus. There was a crowd of individuals outdoors the bus, so I discreetly boarded it and left alongside with her. I had escaped the filtration camp.Our bus obtained so far as Manhush (Editor’s word: a village in the Donetsk area) earlier than the convoy was stopped by Russian troopers. At that time, they already knew who I used to be: they’d figured it out from a video in which Alisa stated she was in Azovstal and requested to be evacuated as a result of she needed to go house. And regardless that the clip compromised me, I don’t remorse that it was filmed and uploaded, as a result of due to it, individuals discovered that there were nonetheless kids, civilians, and wounded individuals in Azovstal.The troopers needed to take Alisa off the bus alongside with me, however I insisted that they solely wanted me, not my little one. That’s how she ended up going to Zaporizhzhia with out me. Of course, I didn’t reveal [that I was being taken captive] in order that she wouldn’t get scared: I instructed her we’d meet once more quickly, and that I liked her very a lot. If Alisa had stayed with me, they might have used her to torture me: if they’d her pinned down, squealing, I’d instantly have instructed them a lot of issues. But since my little one wasn’t with me, I held out.Life in the Olenivka jailIn Manhush, they took me to the district police station and began beating me, attempting to get a confession out of me. Since I used to be the primary service member to return out of Azovstal, the troopers needed to know which of the commanders were nonetheless there, the names of the individuals I served with, what number of wounded there were in the ability, and how a lot drugs and meals was left. Once they realized I wasn’t going to say something, they put me in a cell.A couple of days later, on May 9, I used to be taken to the organized crime division in Donetsk. There, they beat me once more and took my paperwork, together with my passport. And they didn’t return them. That similar day, they ordered me to “put on makeup and costume up properly” and to say on digicam that “the whole lot is ok” in Donetsk, that I deliberate to remain there, and that I needed [Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories] Iryna Vereshchuk to “return” my daughter to me. Of course I didn’t need to say it, however I didn’t have a alternative.Azovstal’s final defenders Ukraine’s Azov regiment shares images of wounded troopers in plea for evacuation from besieged Mariupol metal plantAzovstal’s final defenders Ukraine’s Azov regiment shares images of wounded troopers in plea for evacuation from besieged Mariupol metal plantOn May 31, I used to be transferred to a momentary detention facility, the place I spent the following month. There, I used to be handled a bit higher: they fed me thrice a day, though typically there were cockroaches in the meals, however you simply get them out and maintain consuming. […]In July, I used to be taken to Olenivka. I used to be saved there till October 14. First, there were 11 of us in a two-person cell, then we were transferred to a six-person cell that contained 26 individuals. […]I feel I used to be lucky in comparison with the opposite girls: I wasn’t overwhelmed as a lot. They principally used a rubber truncheon on our heads and ribs, plus on our necks. I discovered that the feminine guards were a lot meaner than the male ones. When they took me in for interrogations, they blindfolded me and gave me instructions: flip left, flip proper, step up. And you didn’t know the place the step was, so once you turned the improper method and hit your head on a closed door, they might chortle.Recipes, Harry Potter, and the Olenivka explosionAt Olenivka, there were girls from numerous different formations — Azov, the National Guard, and the Ukrainian Armed Forces. […] Those women and I grew to become like one massive, blissful household: we tried to consolation one another, we exchanged our favourite recipes and wrote them down — although we weren’t allowed to take our notes with us, in fact. We talked about what we would purchase first when we were launched, and how a lot cash we would spend. The first issues we needed to purchase, in fact, were telephones, so we might name our households.Some of the ladies would voluntarily work in the kitchen or minimize the grass outdoors to go the time. I learn books that the guards gave us: Anna Karenina, a number of of the Harry Potter books, Twilight. They typically tried to stay us with books about Russian historical past.‘I’ve by no means been so scared’ Ukrainian refugees give firsthand accounts of ‘filtration camps’ run by Russian troops‘I’ve by no means been so scared’ Ukrainian refugees give firsthand accounts of ‘filtration camps’ run by Russian troopsThe different women and I lived on the primary flooring, and the boys were on the second flooring. They were badly abused. We typically heard them getting overwhelmed. It was inconceivable to disregard: you heard it and knew that the person being overwhelmed was with you in Azovstal and defended you, and now there was nothing you might do to assist him.On the night of July 29, we heard an explosion. We thought we were being shelled, and it turned out that it had hit our boys in the neighboring barracks. Later, it was confirmed that the explosion got here from contained in the barracks, however in any case, about were killed. […]For months, I didn’t know the place my little one was. The final time I had been in a position to name her was on May 12, after I was in Donetsk; at that time, I had discovered that she had made it to Zaporizhzhia, however I didn’t know if she’d made it to my mom. October 3 was Alisa’s birthday; I spent a very long time attempting to get the guards to let me make one name so I might inform her blissful birthday. The following day, they really let me make the decision. That’s how I discovered that Alisa had arrived in Poland, and how my mother discovered that I used to be in Olenivka.Liberation and rehabOn October 14, [the guards] got here into our cell and stated, “Pack your issues!” There were solely 4 of us left in the cell; they’d already eliminated everybody else in phases. They learn out three names, and mine wasn’t one in all them. I began sounding the alarm and asking them to name somebody in for me. I stated, “I need to go away with my women. Together with them.” They responded, “If we handle to make [temporary] paperwork for you, you may go.”In the top, they only wrote one thing by hand on a piece of paper, and I used to be in a position to make use of it to get out of Olenivka. They blindfolded us, certain our arms, and put us in an Ural truck. […]‘Dad, you will have 5 days earlier than they undertake us’ How a Mariupol father survived a Russian POW camp and traveled to Moscow to avoid wasting his children‘Dad, you will have 5 days earlier than they undertake us’ How a Mariupol father survived a Russian POW camp and traveled to Moscow to avoid wasting his children[After we were taken to a distribution point in Taganrog, Russia, and put in another prison cell,] on October 17, they instructed us, “Get your issues and go!” They blindfolded us and tied our arms once more, put us in a automobile, and then put us on a aircraft. Then it was again into a automobile, the place they lastly allow us to open our eyes.We realized we were headed in the direction of Zaporizhzhia — however up till the final second, we didn’t consider that there can be a [prisoner] change. We thought, “At some level, we’re going to show off and go to a different penal colony.” Even after we noticed the buses from the Ukrainian aspect [that had come to retrieve the soldiers], we were nonetheless nervous the whole lot would crumble one way or the other. But when we lastly obtained out and breathed the Ukrainian air, we realized: “It’s over! Now we’re free!” Though for the primary two days, we didn’t totally understand we were free. Out of behavior, we saved our arms behind our backs and ate shortly.Immediately after the change, we were given telephones. I referred to as my mother and stated, “Mom, they traded me! I’m in Ukraine!” I talked with my daughter, and now we name one another on daily basis. I can hear how she’s matured over these months. She says she misses me and continuously asks, “Mom, will you come in a week?” I inform her, “Just a little bit later than that.” Until I end rehab, I can’t go to Poland to be with them. Me and the opposite liberated girls are doing rehab in Dnipro, and it is going to final about a month. We’ll be examined by all of the medical doctors, do exams, and restore our paperwork. I can’t wait till I can lastly see my mother and Alisa and hug them.Sign up for The BeetUnderreported tales. Fresh views. From Budapest to Bishkek.After the whole lot I went by throughout my 165 days in captivity [beginning with detention in Zaporizhzhia], [free] life feels unusual. Even an strange purchasing journey appears unusual to me. But I’m steadily getting used to it. In Dnipro, the very first thing the opposite girls and I did was eat sushi. We ordered all types and ate it for 2 days. We’ve already gotten our hair completed, and on daily basis, we buy groceries and purchase garments and makeup. Along with our salaries, we’re entitled to advantages for the time we spent in captivity. It’s good to lastly be capable of get cleaned up.Unfortunately, my navy contract is over. I signed it in 2021 for 3 years, however I’m going to have to finish it early, as a result of the month of trip I get after rehab will not be sufficient to make up for the time with my daughter that I misplaced. I have to dedicate extra consideration to her proper now, as a result of it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen her. So at first, I’ll be with Alisa in Poland — I’ll loosen up a bit and begin finding out the language. If I’ve time to work in my career there, I’ll, in fact, however I hope that the scenario in Ukraine stabilizes in six months or a yr and my daughter and I can return. But to not Mariupol; whereas I do miss it, even when it turns into Ukrainian once more, I received’t be capable of return there understanding what occurred there in the course of the battle. I received’t be capable of stroll by it; to see the destroyed streets the place I used to spend my free time, or my outdated residence constructing that’s been burned to the bottom. I feel we’ll suppose in Dnipro; I favored it there. And then I’ll signal one other contract, as a result of I can’t do with out the military — that’s the place I discovered myself.Interview by Shura GulyaevaAbridged translation by Sam Breazeale

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