People story


Story 31: Kateryna

Kateryna, 23, was living with her boyfriend in Mariupol when Russia started the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Escaping to Ukraine-controlled territory in the spring of 2022 was not an option. Russian troops had encircled the city and frequently targeted evacuation routes. The only permitted exit from Mariupol was toward Russia-controlled territories. Russian occupiers also organized what they called “evacuation,” which was, in reality, forced deportation. People were coerced onto buses bound for Russia under the pretext of escaping from “Azov Nazis.” After experiencing Russian shelling during another attempt to reach Ukraine-controlled territory, Kateryna and her boyfriend concluded that their only option was to accept deportation. They packed a small bag and took their cat before boarding a bus to Taganrog, Russia. This was their only means of survival — to become victims of forcible deportation and captives in the aggressor’s country.


Upon reaching the Russian border, Kateryna and her boyfriend underwent an extensive interrogation that lasted eight hours. Their phones were scrutinized, and they were asked for names and contacts. They were then taken to a temporary accommodation center, a repurposed sports school. The staff there aggressively suggested they relocate to Nyzhnii Novgorod, where more resettlement options were available; otherwise, they would be sent to the north or the far east of Russia. Kateryna recalls that leaving the center was virtually impossible without the help of relatives or volunteers. Deportees found themselves financially stranded, as hryvnias could not be exchanged for rubles, and credit cards were not accepted. Money could only be exchanged if one accepted temporary protection status, which posed its own risks.

People without connections to volunteers or relatives had no choice but to accept temporary protection status in order to find employment and earn money for a ticket back to Ukraine. Kateryna encountered her friend’s younger sister at the temporary accommodation center in Tagangor. She felt compelled to take this option and find work to escape from Russia.

Fortunately, Kateryna had distant relatives in Russia. After some time, she reached out to them for assistance. They provided her with enough money to purchase tickets to the Estonian border. Upon arrival, they were once again interrogated by Russian authorities at the border. Kateryna, her boyfriend, and their cat successfully crossed into EU territory. She recalls the immense relief she felt upon finally distancing themselves from Russia.


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