“It is very hard to see the place where I was born in ruins”

A summer sunset bathing a sea with seagulls: it is one of the most beautiful photos that the camera has captured Serghii Makarov in Mariupol. He feels that he made a postcard that corresponds to another era, to another life in the city. It was in 2009, but it is the photo that you want to keep in your memory. “We had a television tower that looks like the Eiffel Tower,” he tells RTVE.es with a racing voice. This 34-year-old, passionate about photography, he had specialized in reports of weddings, communions and other social events in Mariúpol. Now, almost two months after the war, the portraits of him have changed. “I managed to make a living from photography, but now I have the chamber full of destruction“, the Mint.

Serghii finds it difficult to accept reality, but after many days documenting the destruction of the city, he managed to flee with his wife. “We made a two-hour trip in eight and under the bombs”, he assures. He left the city a few days ago that Moscow already considers under his control while the Ukrainian soldiers resist in the steel mill and do not intend to surrender despite the siege after a new ultimatum from Russia.

The Russian armed forces have not stopped bombing the city and are concentrating on Donbas. Serghii considers that no place is safe in Ukraine and admits that he would like to leave the country.

This young man managed to flee after two frustrated attempts. “Staying is dangerous and leaving too”, warns after his trip. After an eight-hour nightmare with the threat of artillery fire everywhere, he is now in Ivano-Frankivsk with his wife. He has left it all behind, but his memory cards are full of black and white photos have accompanied him on his odyssey.

Aftermath of the first Russian bombardment of the city center of Mariupol Photo courtesy of Makarov Serghii

Portraits of the hard life of their neighbors

“My career as a photographer started in Mariupol. Before the war I took photos of people, happy and excited faces“, he says. “Now there is no color,” he laments. They are all in black and white. Perhaps it is because the reality of war is measured on a gray scale. There are details that can go unnoticed amid the noise of the conflict. Between His photographs of devastated Mariupol feature a pile of children’s shoes in the trash, a torn open book, a woman looking desperately at her razed house. He sees in his neighbors the life they have to face and shapes it harshly.

“We are used to the sound of bombing because we live near other cities that have been at war since 2014, but until now I had not understood what a total war was,” he adds. the population stayed without food, without light and without water a few days after the war began. The press also had to leave very soon, so there has been very little information about what has happened. This Saturday the Ukrainian authorities announced a new attempt to evacuate civilians from the city. “We will try again to evacuate women, children and the elderly,” he assured. Iryna Vereshchukthe deputy prime minister of Ukraine.

The first few days they survived on the food they managed to buy before the war started, but it was not enough and soon they were left with nothing. “On March 15 we ran out of gas”, recounts. To cook they had to resort to firewood from trees in their gardens, a wood that is damp and difficult to combust. There was no heating and they couldn’t cook either. They have been hungry and cold in the middle of the snow. “The worst thing has been taking photos of so many corpses,” concludes.

A neighbor walking through the destroyed streets of Mariupol Photo courtesy of Makarov Serghii

The situation in Mariupol continues to be a nightmare for the population and this Saturday Russian troops have again attacked the Azovstal steel mill, according to the Ukrainian authorities. Serghii says that “people wanted to do everything possible to save themselves, but they couldn’t go out. The first days they felt safer in their city because the situation in other cities was much more serious”, but that security lasted two days. moved to the basements. Incommunicado, without water and without light. “On March 13, to connect, we had to climb to the roof of the houses and then we were left without connection“, remember.

Even the basements became dangerous

This couple lived the last days in that city with constant fear. All the food stores were closed. Even the basements became dangerous, she says. They lived with about 150 people, including very young babies who never went out. Finally, she managed to hang out with her people and connect. She found many messages from his friend Mikel (not his real name).

Mikel now lives in Paris, but his grandparents are still in Mariupol. She has not been able to communicate with them for more than a month and the little information she has about them comes from his parents, who from time to time manage to contact them to confirm that “they are still alive”. There he keeps many childhood memories of him, especially walks on the beach with his grandparents. He is Russian and, like his parents, was born in Moscow, but his grandparents, both maternal and paternal, live in Ukraine.

A friend of Serghii with her daughter overnight in a basement Photo courtesy of Makarov Serghii

They can only connect through the telephone lines of one of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbas.. They have discovered that they can make calls, but not receive them and they don’t have internet access either,” Mikel explains to RTVE.es. His grandparents didn’t want to leave when the war started and now he tries to convince them to flee, even to Russia. “We want them alive,” he says. He knows that they destroyed his family’s house when they recognized it from the photos published on social networks, but luckily they were in another house that they have on the outskirts. Nevertheless, “they are not safe” ditch.

“My grandfather is 77 years old and my grandmother is 75. He worked in the metallurgical industry and my grandmother was a doctor,” he says proudly. During the soviet era demographic mobility between the different socialist republics was very frequent. Mikel’s grandparents settled in Mariupol and over time had managed to buy a house in the center of the city and another on the outskirts of the city. He spent every summer in that house.

“I was very happy doing my job in my city”

For Serghii, Mariupol was the city of rest, of second homes and also of celebrations. “I was very happy doing my job in my city and capturing moments of happiness for many people,” explains the photographer.

“Which photo to choose from Mariupol?”, he wonders as he passes them around to show the devastation. They all have destruction in common, but each has its own story”. There is one that he prefers not to show, the worst photo he has ever taken. “The most horrible photo is the photo of my parents’ apartment completely destroyed. It is very hard to see the place where I was born in ruins, I know it like the back of my hand and where I have spent every day of my life”, she concludes between sobs.

It is very hard to see a place where I was born in ruins, I know it like the back of my hand and where I have spent every day of my life

The testimonies that come from Mariupol speak of the serious consequences of the war, the tragedy has devastated thousands of lives and, like Serghii’s photos, with shades of chiaroscurofeign an unusual identity. The testimonies of the survivors are repeatedall in black and white, with no more life than the brightness that can be sensed behind the shadows, perhaps, as a sign of hope.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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