‘Grads maneuvered between our houses and shelled Mariupol’. The story of Roman
*Grads — Self-propelled multiple rockets launcher designed in the Soviet Union
The Russian military stole Roman’s car and later returned it without registration plates. The street near his dacha (summer cottage) was “crammed with Kamaz trucks” carrying Russian military men who admitted they had come to earn extra money for a car.
Tell me, please, about 24 February. Where did the war find you, and how do you remember that day?
I came from work, and we were told it would be 3-4 days. Well, what can you take from home for 3-4 days? So we loaded whatever we could into the car, including two cats and a dog. I also took a tracksuit, which I later gave to the guys in Ivano-Frankivsk. That's it, and we went out of town. We drove toward Berdyansk, Shyroka Balka, and Agrobaza [a village west of Mariupol]. When we passed the checkpoint, no one stopped us but just waved: “Drive faster.” Finally, we arrived at our beloved dacha (we had a small house.) We discovered five families out of 400 who used to live there. They lived and thought that everything would be fine. But on 2 March, electricity, water supply, and mobile communications were already cut off.
I went out into the street, and there were Chechens.
What date was it?
Third of March.
So, there was no military yet before 3 March?
You saw the Chechens, and what happened next?
I raised my hands up and said: “I am a civilian.” They went into the house, saw the child, and took away my SIM card. It was a reconnaissance company that went ahead of the supply column.
Our Head of summer cottages, named Jean ( I don’t know where he is now), said: “Roma, take down the flag.” Our Ukrainian yellow-blue flag hung at the entrance. I ran and took it off. It is now lying in front of his house, and no one knows where it is. Only me. Even the guard “Baba Shura,” as we called her, [doesn’t know].
Then came the Dagestanis, the Chechens. On the second day, we were taken for interrogation. First, they asked who was from ZSU (The Armed Forces of Ukraine). We all said that we are civilians. But they still pushed us a little, hitting us in the kidneys and the legs.
Did they take the men for interrogation?
Yes, men only.
Was everyone released?
At first, they said that until this whole situation was over, they would not let us go. And then one came and said we were innocent because they found a person who gave points.
The men who were taken for interrogation, were they all beaten?
And then it was like this. At first, when they drove in, they stood all day, and the engines were humming as they had diesel fuel. Then they started entering all the houses. We were afraid to go out, but they took out everything possible. We saw such people in the movie about Popandopulo, “Wedding in Malinovka”. There were situations when a person was dragging a suitcase with, sorry, women's underpants.
Were they Chechens?
These were Dnrovtsy (fighters from the DPR - Donetsk People's Republic). In the same way, they came to me at night with machine guns and took my car.
Tell me, please, did the attitude of the Dnrovtsy, Russians, and Chechens towards the Ukrainian people somehow differ?
Yes, there were different attitudes. The Chechens were looking for the military, but they treated civilians normally. I came across such people: there was a Dagestanis, and their sergeant ordered no one and nothing to be touched. And the Dnrovtsy, they didn’t care about anything, and they destroyed everything.
How was your car stolen?
My fence was closed, so they came from my neighbor, Misha. With automatics. Earlier, the neighbors told me: “Roma, it’s better to leave the keys in the car, so they don’t shoot you.” So that's what I did. My wife and I slept on the floor, and our son slept on the bed. The son woke up at night and said: "Dad, someone is coming." I looked out the window as they entered with machine guns and opened the gate. I wanted to shout something to them, but my wife Vika said: “Roma, don’t do it!” So they opened the gate, took the car, and drove off. This was the situation.
Are the houses intact? Were there hits?
The houses are intact, but they were looted. In some places, there was, as they wrote, “Russian intelligence”.
Did they make those inscriptions?
No, but it was written on their chevrons: “Russian intelligence”. They had quadcopters with grenades.
Did you see where they launched them?
They launched toward Mariupol. I saw groups of soldiers go there and never come back. Russian groups went, and the Dnrovtsy themselves said they were not returning. They entered the city and could not return.
Why couldn't they? Did they die there?
Have you seen any military equipment?
Yes. I saw Grads. They maneuvered between our houses. We have a small village. They shot and drove off, shot back, and drove off. They hit 24/7. I saw Grads and self-propelled guns. They thrashed in such a way that words could not convey. We only slept 20 minutes at night.
At first, I hid my child and wife in the basement. Then we already understood where they came from. Planes flew, missiles flew.
They launched Grads towards Mariupol — did you see that?
Yes, they thrashed and shot near us from Shyroka Balka.
Did helicopters also fly over you towards Mariupol?
They did. Everything was there, all the equipment, everything they had. They shouted that they could not take the airport because our guys made good exits there at one time. Our tank comes out, hits, and goes back. But when they hit, there are 2-3 meters of concrete, and their shells go to the side.
After your first interrogation, did you have to communicate with the Russians or the DPR people? What were you talking about?
The youngsters who were driving cars needed a contract. They all wanted to buy cars, all of them.
I talked to the sergeant, who was more or less normal and quick-witted. He said, “This is not our war. I'm a contractor." And the youngsters came for the money.
So, they understood this was a war, not a “special operation”?
Yes, they understood. There has been more than one such conflict. They purposefully signed up to earn combat money, as they said, to buy a car. That was their goal.
Did you communicate with the Dnrovtsy? What was their purpose? Perhaps they spoke. What did they want?
I talked to them and charged their phones. 50% of them were simply taken away from their place of work. First, second, third, and fourth, they told me: “It’s not my fault; they came to me, twisted my hands, gave us a machine gun, and took everyone to the military registration and enlistment office.” One said, "I am a Russian language, history, and mathematics teacher.” Some said: “Why do you live here so well? You bombed us for eight years.” — “Who bombed you?” Not a single shot was fired from Mariupol, and they said they had been bombed for eight years. Some seriously zombified people said that we were Banderas (Ukrainian nationalists). And I answered: “How am I talking to you now? In Ukrainian or Russian?” That's how it was.
Did they go into houses and loot even though people were there?
No, if there were people, they did not go. They only went to places where there were no people. They only fed if people were there. They took my car away from me, and the neighbors from the other street drove their vehicle to the garage when they found out. They robbed more where there were no owners. And those who couldn’t protect [property]. We had five families, although we thought there would be more people. But everyone else was robbed: windows and doors were torn out. They took everything they could. Well, what could be brought to the country house? Only what is not needed at home. But some lived well in the dachas. And they towed and dragged and pulled.
Tell us how you got out. Did the Russians interfere? Perhaps you were held back or ordered to stay?
Yes. They took my car from me, and I couldn't leave. Also, we were not given a green corridor. Nobody could leave.
I found my car, but they took my number plates and threw them away. We arrived in Mangush using paper numbers. The DPR people have been in Mangush since 14 March. I asked them: what to do? They said: "You have a tech paper." Well, I had it, but there was no internet and no power, and the database did not work. How would I go?
I don't know whether you believe my story, but on the evening of the 17th, we were told to hang white scarves on the car and drive out slowly. There would be a green corridor. So we decided to leave. We were told not to go out until 6:00 in the morning.
My wife woke up at 6:00 and said: “Roma, go to Oleg’s, where they hid our car, and take a look. Maybe the number plate is there. She dreamed something, but, honestly, I found it there, and I rushed back with these numbers!
God protected and guided us, and we reached Vasilievka through 18 checkpoints. We rode through the fields and obstacles. We were stopped, detained, and checked. There was a minefield near Vasilyevka, and everyone was detained. Then we drove towards Zaporizhzhia.
You said you were detained at checkpoints. For what reason and for how long?
We were detained at checkpoints because we took everything we could from the dacha. We knew we would not be back soon, and we loaded the car: things, cats, dogs. They checked. I couldn't understand why they were aggressively looking for alcohol and cigarettes.
I didn't drink or smoke while driving, but they were looking for alcohol and cigarettes at many checkpoints.
Also, I have a Kyiv residence permit. My wife and son have Mariupol, but I am from Kyiv.
Did they check and immediately release you?
They first examined the car, went back and forth, then: “OK, close it.” And they would let us go.
Eighteen checkpoints. Were there checks at each?
Not at each. However, the farther from Mariupol, the more often.
When the Chechens entered our village, there was a purge. Someone betrayed our village. All the streets were packed with KAMAZ trucks, accompanied by tank divisions. All roads between houses! Then the gates were torn down. Grads, Uragans (Soviet multiple-launch rocket system), and SAUs (Self-propelled artillery mounts) drove through the fields.
Did they shoot?
24/7. They were silent only from about 00:00 to 03:00. Then the rockets flew from all vehicles. At first, we did not understand what was happening, so we hid in the basement at the dacha. Then we knew what, from where, and where to it flies. We were there for three weeks, from 24 February to 18 March. There were also our quadrocopters. We saw grenades being dropped—a quadcopter with a grenade attached to it.
People's houses in our street were looted. Symonenko Vyctoryy, Maslov Oleh, Aleksander Frushych, Ruslan Babashov. These were our neighbors down the street in the Promin cooperative, where the Russians came.
When you left the cooperative, did the Russian military stay there?
Yes, there were many Dnrovtsy. They robbed everything they could. When I left, there were Grads on the slopes. It was on 18 March. And when we went to Zaporizhzhia, we saw a lot of broken combat vehicles