Lizards. The war

Here are some stories from Mariupol, Mykolaiv, Irpin, Kyiv region, and Kyiv itself, told by the Lizards, whose February 24 began there.

About ones who didn't believe russians could start this full-scale war and others who felt that something horrible was about to happen.

About how our colleague from Mariupol, a mother of two, hid her sons under blankets while taking them out of the occupied city by car. So that they don't see dozens of mutilated corpses of civilians right in the middle of the streets. And the burned areas that were once their schools and kindergartens, parks and shopping centers. Their beautiful seaside town. Before the russian invaders.

About how our other colleague from Irpin, which is a few kilometers from Gostomel, that was being attacked by the russian invaders, got out of the methodically shelled town. She didn't have a car to leave right away, and the friends who had one left without her. She did not catch the last minibus to leave on her own, because the bridge on the way, which was still possible to evacuate by, was blown up very soon.

About how to live on, when everything around is collapsing – your life, reasons to live on, your house, your business...

And how we all did manage to live on.

Valeria, Mariupol. The Greatest Escape

“They started shelling us so heavily that my children themselves asked to go there as "explosions are not so loud there." Valeria’s children Sasha and Zhorik play with the neighbor’s kid in the basement. The city is being shelled at the moment

Reading time

In part I:
“My dad called me at 6.00 am, “Lera, the war has begun! They’ve shelled Kyiv!" And I'm like, "So what? We're being shelled from time to time here, too!" I thought my parents started panicking way too early, as usual.”


“I just couldn't believe that there could be such a level of cruelty. No one thought that the city would be so systematically destroyed, grid by grid.”


“Each morning looked like this: we woke up. If we have some dry food to eat such as cookies, we ate, then I went to the fire by our apartment building. If it was already lit, I had to boil some water. As there was no drinking water, we boiled it.”


“I no longer put my children to bed in the afternoon as I had to put them to bed at 7 pm. And then my neighbors and I drank, played cards, sang songs. For the first time in my life, I drank pure alcohol with a raspberry compote.”


“And even then, we laughed that Mariupol would become a Hero City and there would be a movie filmed about us and named «The Siege of Mariupol».”

Part II
Our second escape

I always knew we would leave. We've got to be strong enough to wait for our moment... That moment has come two weeks later...

... On the 17-18th of March, we were being bombed heavily. All the windows of our apartment building were already broken. There were already people from all the surrounding buildings in our basement. We had nowhere else to run.

“We knew we were next. Everything around has already been destroyed. We haven't been wiped out yet because it wasn't our turn. If it doesn't happen today, It'll happen tomorrow. We were slaughter lambs.”
Photo: Ànton Gerashchenko, Telegram, 03.2022

Later on, I saw my neighbor carrying a blanket into the car.

I run to him, “Andrey, are you leaving?” He says, “There is information: allegedly, yesterday some people have left. Now several guys went by bicycle to see whether the checkpoint is open and whether there's some old detour road.” And I say, "I'm going with you." He said, “You have to understand, we will drive fast, we won't wait for anyone. If you take too long, you'll go on your own. And we don't know what's there, we are going on the off chance."

"Baby on board" sticker on the windshield. Having it on, Valeria's car got under fire three times

I replied, "I'm going with you."

I ran to the neighbor whom I promised to take with me. She has a son of my boy's age, her husband is serving in the "Azov" Military Unit. I've promised I would get her out. She agreed, and then we rushed to put our things out of the car so that she could fit in with the child. And so she could take some of their things, too.

That's why I only have a sports bag with my children's things, a small bag with mine, and an old laptop. And that's why my children were traveling without a car seat, as we left it because there was no room for one.

“We lined up in a convoy. I was told that I would be driving on the back of it. And that I will have to catch up with everyone because they wouldn't wait for me.”

...Meanwhile, my porridge was left to be cooked on the fire. Our belongings were left in the basement. I gave the neighbors our apartment keys again, and we set off...

Mariupol. Apocalypse

We went up the driveway and stopped. I started to get nervous: why are we staying still, why are we not moving?! And then I've seen a Ukrainian tank coming towards us. And they fired off above us! And then the drivers of our convoy cars just floored the accelerator pedals! And I did the same.

“...We covered our children's eyes with blankets. Not because of possible shell fragments, but for boys not to see what was around. I didn't want it.

…And then I saw my city…”
Photo: REUTERS, 03.2022

... I've seen around me destroyed roads, bomb craters, burnt cars, fallen trees, bodies on the roadsides ... This is what a real apocalypse looks like. Trying not to look around, I followed others in a hurry.

At the exit of the city, we stumbled onto another convoy of private cars. There were a lot of them, they took five kilometers long. And we realized that we wouldn't leave before the curfew.

We got out of the cars. I said I won't go back, I'll spend the night here. Others said, “We won't go back either.”

The rescue

There was a guy with us. He says, " I was a taxi driver here. If you're not afraid, I'll take you out on the dirt road, along the cliff, near the sea."

It was the second race in my life: to drive very fast, 90 km per hour, on a broken dirt road ... We managed to overtake this line and jump out to the checkpoint.

And these guys with whom we were traveling, although said “we will not wait for you”, but at every intersection where the police or the soldiers were, they shouted: “There is a gray Ford! Gray Ford is with us! Don't break the convoy!"

“When we jumped out of the city, everyone got out of the cars and began crying and hugging. At that moment we realized: it was over. We're safe.”

What a feeling of euphoria!

After the escape. Heading to Zaporizhzhia. "Still in the basement dust, but already free"

"Yalta". The first night of freedom

We spent the night in "Yalta", a village of resort summer houses 40 km from Mariupol. At first, we planned to open one of the houses, carefully go in and spend the night. It's ok that there was no heating, as it's still better than spending the night outside ... But we even didn’t have to open it: there was staff in the master’s house who let us in.

The same evening, we discussed our future plans with the guys from the convoy and realized that they all were out of the way. Some of them would go to Odesa, others would even go to the Crimea. And no one would travel to the north, in Zaporizhzhia. We were the only ones.

The next morning, at 5:00 am, we departed to Zaporizhzhia and ... got lost. Road signs have been removed, google maps were not working. Suddenly we found ourselves in some kind of reeds...

“To find out the way, I had to walk to the middle of the driveway with my arms outstretched, jumping out right in front of cars. Because everyone was afraid to stop.”

So we got to the Ukrainian checkpoint near Zaporizhzhia and joined the convoy of some cars. And we got under fire.

Last shelling

When it started shelling this convoy – like a herd of antelopes in the Lion King movie – began scattering left and right! There were two options only: either to pull up to the curb and wait, or to rush off following the others. I rushed off. And I did it so desperately that scratching the car or breaking the glass was no longer important to me. The only important thing was that the car was moving.

They shelled from behind and very close. We saw several cars hit behind us. But we got through.

“At every intersection where the police or the soldiers were, they shouted: «There is a gray Ford! Gray Ford is with us! Don't break the convoy!»”
“And I did it so desperately that scratching the car or breaking the glass was no longer important to me.”

In Zaporizhzhia, we were registered as refugees and then went to Dnipro city. We had a contact there with friends of our friends of other friends.

It was the first night we slept in beds. We were able to wash our faces, take a shower, have some normal food.

The rest of the way was safe.

"We can't go back"
Sasha, 8 y.o., and Zhorik, 4 y.o., enjoying a walk by the sea. Before the war

We arrived on Thursday, and the next day, in the morning, I joined the daily meeting online.

And after a few days, I began realizing what we came through. I got scared out of my mind: my God, what have I done! Anything could've happened! It was Divine Providence that my car didn't break down. That we did leave the sieged city.

That we were not hit by shell fire, we were not blown up, we didn't break the wheel. Anything can happen on the road even while peacetime!

And then I was getting cold feet due to "what could happen back then."

Later on, I received a message from the neighbors that my apartment building had been destroyed. They said the 4th and 5th floors of our section were hit. I live on the 4th. And I felt myself growing harder.

“My children began asking questions: when can we come back home? "I miss my room, my toys." I'm not lying to them. I'm telling them we can't go back. But we'll get them new toys, a new room. But we can't go back there."

Although, to be honest, until I see it for myself, I won't believe it's over. I keep on thinking: well, everything still couldn’t get burned out, right? Something is still there, right? Okay, the boots are burned out. But the pan, for example, couldn't burn out, right? The dishes couldn't burn out? I still haven't seen it firsthand...

To be here and now

I no longer make long-term plans. I try to "be here and now" and have a one-day plan only. And if something goes wrong, I accept it. Although it used to be hard for me before.

I try to make do with what we have here and now.

“I have this pot, this porridge, this water, so I would cook with it. There are these clothes, so I would wear them. This is the blanket I will cover myself with.”

Habits from years help a lot. After my arrival, I conducted an inventory of what I had and defined what else I needed. And not just to survive, but to keep on living.

So I bought exactly the same facial care products that I used at home. Some of you might think this was an excessive waste as it wasn't necessary. But for me it's important. I continue my morning facial routine here just like I did at home.

“I try to make do with what we have here and now.” New home, Vinnytsya region

Work far behind the frontline

The biggest irritant is the cell phone. I take it to another room and check on it once an hour, once every two hours when I'm on break. I know there can't be urgent calls right now. In the first days after our escape, my relatives, who were looking for me back then, kept on texting me and still do. And I had to reply to everyone. Then I decided to make a social media post that we are fine and doing good.

Also, I did not install either Facebook or WhatsApp, no instant messengers on my computer.

New workplace. Vinnytsya region

I start working around 9:00 am. And all the time I keep checking the clock, so as not to get up randomly from the computer. It is very difficult to focus, as you suddenly want to have some water, then to smoke, then some coffee, then to move things from one place to another.

Therefore, if I sat down at the computer, I literally force myself not to get up: until I read this paragraph to the end, I will not take my eyes off the monitor; until I process this comment, I will not get up from the computer. This is achieved precisely by willpower.

Support of the Lizards

Back in Mariupol, I received messages from the Lizards every day. From my teammates, the manager, from HRG Lena, she texted a lot. From Oleg, my team business analyst, who hands over cases to me. They texted me “get in touch”, “how are you?”, “stay strong”.

I was very pleased and a little confused: why do all these people support me so much? We don't even know each other. I worked for the Company just for two weeks. It gave me the feeling that I would have somewhere to return. No, I can't go home. But there is something that I can return to.

“I don’t feel like my whole world has shattered just because I kept my job. Everything collapsed, but not this. That's why I immediately went online for the daily meeting: because there is something left.” (ed.: barely holding back tears).

After the Victory
Mariupol. Before the war
“First of all, I must return to Mariupol and see this with my own eyes. If possible, I'd take something from what's left there. At least one burnt pot.”

Second, I have to find a place to live. Of course, I can stay here as long as I want, but I have two children, I need a good school, a good kindergarten, kids clubs, a clinic.

(auth.) What about yourself?

You know, in my last home, the real "icing on the cake" was the dishwasher! I dreamed about it all my life. And I've got it! (ed.: laughs).

And, probably, when I get a dishwasher again, I will understand that I got my life back as it was before the war.

Message to myself on February 25-26

Get ready for the worst. Be less optimistic.

Message to the Lizards

Stick together. Keep as many connections with people as possible. For example, I don’t know how to make a fire, but someone does.

“And when everything falls apart, when things lose their value, at some point, the people around you become what saves you. Your house would burn down, you would lose your property, you would lose money, but if you remain connected with people around you, you wouldn't stay alone in this mess.”

In conclusion

Many now tell me “Great job!”, “You are a hero!”, but this is an exaggeration.

The fact that we were able to leave and saved ourselves is mostly good luck. We were lucky.

But there is one thing for which I can say "Good job!" to myself, that I rarely do. And this is what I ask others to listen to: you must always remain human.

With Zhorik in a new place of living. Vinnytsya region
Hiking with children in a past life. Sasha is in the photo.
Before the war
“At the very worst of life. In the darkest moment, you must always remain a human being. And do not do something for which you'll be ashamed later. Because the war will be over. The scariest moment will end. And everyone who did something wrong, said something wrong, will be very ashamed of it later.”

In Mariupol, I witnessed some really horrible things: some lacked a human face, did terrible things, looted, stole, deceived, framed, betrayed their own friends.

My friend and her husband, who is Police high-ranking official, have left earlier. They knew which way to leave, but they didn't tell anyone. I've always considered her a very close friend of mine. But they did what they did. And I think it's dishonest.

I didn’t do and say anything for which I would later be ashamed.
And this is important.