Story 29: Svitlana
Svitlana, a 24-year-old, lived with her family in a suburb of Mariupol. After the Russians occupied the city, they began forcibly deporting citizens under the pretense of “evacuation.” Svitlana and her family members were not given a choice; they were simply loaded onto buses for a process known as filtration. During this, her family members, especially the males, were subjected to interrogation. As Svitlana recalls, not all men were able to pass through this filtration, but her family was somewhat fortunate: no one was harmed.
Following the filtration in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, Svitlana and her family were transported by bus to the Russian border. They spent many hours on the bus before crossing the border, enduring a cold night without heating and no access to toilets, a particularly challenging situation for children and the elderly, Svitlana said. At the border, an official handed out migration cards to be filled out and forms for a one-time payment of 10,000 rubles from the Russian government, which she and her family declined. They then underwent a second round of filtration, where Svitlana faced more intensive questioning. The interrogator recorded the IMEl number of her phone and asked numerous threatening questions.
Eventually, Svitlana and her family were taken to Taganrog and placed in a temporary accommodation center. There, the woman overheard staff discussing plans to move newcomers further into Russia, prompting her realization that they needed to escape. Fortunately, Svitlana had some money. She and her family traveled by train to St. Petersburg and then to the Estonian border, successfully crossing it.