© 2024 Public Radio Tulsa
800 South Tucker Drive
Tulsa, OK 74104
(918) 631-2577

A listener-supported service of The University of Tulsa
classical 88.7 | public radio 89.5
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Voice of Ukraine: Escape from Mariupol

Marina Hetmanova and her daughter.
Marina Hetmanova
Marina Hetmanova and her daughter.

Continuing our series about Ukraine and Ukrainians, we hear from Marina Hetmanova who fled Mariupol. Hetmanova lived for a while in Poland before arriving in Tulsa. KWGS’ Olha Hrytsaniuk has more about Hetmanova’s escape. Listen above and/or follow along with the transcript below.

Marina Hetmanova: I did not believe this could happen, but my suitcase was packed. I thought it would be just like 2014. The outskirts were shelled, I spent a couple of weeks in Kyiv and returned back to Mariupol. Never in my life could I imagine that the city would be 90% destroyed.

Olga Hrytsaniuk: The day before the war started, Marina listened to Putin’s speech. She realized Russia would attack Ukraine. But she said still hoped for the best.

MH: At five in the morning the sound of explosions woke me up. Russian troops were already advancing. There was no electricity, the phone connection was bad. I called my mom a hundred times to say she should pack her belongings.

OH: Marina grabbed her daughter, a small suitcase and passports. There was no time to take anything else. Later, her house burned down along with everything inside.

MH: We left as early as possible, but it was too late for us. We went to the first checkpoint and they didn’t let us out. The fight was underway. So I went the other way. My friends who were trying to leave the city two hours later were not allowed to leave. People had to stay for more than three weeks within the blockade without water and food.

OH: Marina said she felt lucky to get out, but she didn’t know where she was going.

MH: In fact, I was driving without a goal, just wherever I could. I traveled for three days. You waited in a line of cars. The distance you could travel in 20 minutes took five hours. You couldn't do toileting needs, it was impossible to refuel the car because there was no gas. I didn’t think about food at all. The only goal was just to run to a safe place.

OH: Finally, when Marina arrived at Lviv in western Ukraine, she realized she’d lost all contact with her family and friends.

MH: I opened messenger and everyone had the same date they were online. It's terrible to understand that your friends and relatives are still in danger. For three weeks they had nothing to drink or eat, and they were freezing. All the shops were looted, complete chaos. In addition, you are bombarded from air and there are constant street fights. A lot of my friends who went out in search of water simply did not return.

OH: Marina’s apartment and her parents' house burned down. But she said she feels fortunate because so many people she knew lost their lives.

MH: They dropped air bombs on a nine-story building and that's it, everyone died there. There was no one to save them. My grandmother died there, and we still don’t know where her body is.

OH: After Lviv, Marina's family decided to move on. They crossed the border into Poland and settled in Krakow for eight months. It was a new challenge to find a vacant place to rent there. Luckily, a woman named Bozhena helped them, providing shelter for six months.

MH: She is just some kind of saint. She was waiting for us, fully provided us with food, settled us in her new apartment. She helped get a child into kindergarten. I have never been to Poland before, it was not on my wish list. But I was wrong, because I learned how good this country is with its wonderful people.

OH: As the lease was coming to an end, Marina decided to move to the United States.

MH: I shared my story on Facebook, and the woman from Tulsa, her name is Tatyana Klymenko, was very impressed. She is from Ukraine and has been living in Tulsa for over 15 years. The beautiful McMahan family provided me with their guest house. Another man from Mississippi, Rodney, bought me plane tickets and a car.

OH: Marina said she’s still learning how to navigate life in Tulsa. She does not know if she will return to Mariupol.

For KWGS News, I’m Olha Hrytsaniuk.