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His mother Liuda and sister Zhenia ventured out into Mariupol to find some food at the other end of the city.
Neighbours said that all the shops were being looted, that there was no food left in the supermarket across a road. Only toys and alcohol.
Vova woke up at noon but his mother and sister had not yet returned.
He fell asleep again – these days he often escaped reality by sleeping. It got dark and still no one came.
Mariupol has been occupied by the Russians and Vova’s family had been afraid to even leave the house.
His father tried to reassure them, saying: “The war will be over soon, there is no need to run away.” He has been serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Vova waited two weeks for them to return. Prior to that, Liuda had not left him alone even for a day. So Vova kept waiting for the door to open and for his mother and Zhenia to come in, cheerful as usual.
He couldn’t call his elder sister Yulia, who is in Kyiv and working in the police, because there was no power, no phone connections.
The first days he just cried, sitting opposite his mother’s chair. Her belongings remained on it and he didn’t touch them, as if they were holy.
When he went outside neighbours gave him soup, cooked in the open air.
When Vova realised that his mother and sister would never return, he took the money his mum had left him and went out. He wanted to get to Zaporizhzhia, where his grandparents lived, just to get away from this terrible place.
As he walked,Vova passed a screaming woman whose leg had been torn off.
There were mines around, those who tried to escape were shot in their cars.
The child had lost his sense of fear and the streets were lined with corpses. He says he “remembered all of them, the dead have the same faces, but the wounds and clothes are different”.
There was a feeling that he himself was dead, “as if I see people but no one sees me”. He couldn’t feel his body, he didn’t want to eat.
He thought of Liuda and how she devoted herself to all three children, cooking them delicious meals.
On the way out of the city, Vova met a volunteer who promised to help, until they were both detained by Russians.
The boy was allowed to call Yulia, and they agreed their grandparents would go to collect him. His grandfather drove there right away but their ordeal was still not over. They were interrogated for hours before eventually being released.
Yulia wrote me this letter in the desperate hope we can help to find Liuda. Yulia, who has an 11-month-old son, told me that she is writing everywhere, “to Red Cross, even to the President. No one knows anything”.
Yulia’s sister Zhenia had been murdered. A picture posted on Telegram showed her lying dead near the market. Yulia said: “She was wearing shoes and clothes that I remember very well. At that moment I saw Zhenia I fainted.”
Yulia and her brother are now together at last. But when he finally got to Kyiv she didn’t recognise him, saying: “Vova had become so thin, tall and completely silent. He seems to be sleeping.”
Maybe he doesn’t want to wake up.
The reality is just too cruel for such a young person.
‘Those who tried to escape were shot’
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