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How Mariupol votes in the referendum on joining Russia on September 25, 2022

Dmitry Steshin returned to Mariupol

Dmitry Steshin returned to Mariupol

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

VOICE “FOR MOM!”

Mariupol School No. 44 found itself right between two fires – the Ilyich plant and Azovstal. Around it sprawled a factory settlement of private houses with little gardens. Life is glimmering – there are already fresh signs “receiving scrap”, some guys, without welded masks, just squinting, repairing the gate, patching holes from fragments.

The navigator sighs: “Missed the turn, go back.” I return and the rolled road leads me to the tunnel under the railway. At the last second, a comrade shouts: “Stop! Let’s get stuck!” Indeed, the car will not crawl through this tunnel. How so, comrade navigator? A little later, the locals explained that this path under the railroad, in March-April, was the main passage along which militants from one factory moved to another, in droves. And ours crushed them from all sides. Artificial intelligence, decided that this is such a passable route …

With the chairman of the electoral committee of the 52nd district, Sergei Terziev, the foreman of the repairmen from the Ilyich plant, we go up to the top floor of the school. We admire Azovstal through broken windows. Smokes rise above the shops, they fly, not immediately, rolling explosions – sappers are working. Sergey Ivanovich says:

– Our school, it turns out, survived two wars and the Great Patriotic War and (selects a word) – the last one. Here the headquarters of “Azov” was, “Grady” stood right in the yard, machine guns on the third floor. Corpses lay in the streets, he walked, buried. The shelling ended, went out, dug in.

Rainbow and City Drama Theater

Rainbow and City Drama Theater

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

I ask a difficult question about the exchange of prisoners with Azovstal, but Sergey knows, perhaps, the most correct answer: “They gave and gave, most importantly, they took their boys.”

Points to the delightfully landscaped water meadows of Kalmius:

– Everything was mined, but the sappers cleared it. Sappers and cows. The referendum, of course, was very supportive of the people. Just such a joy came. And the light was given two weeks ago, they lived without light for seven months. The Russians, Rosseti, well done of course – people went out to them, dragged them to feed, thanked them as best they could.

Polling station at school number 44

Polling station at school number 44

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

– How many people vote?

Sergei tells me proudly:

– In Donetsk, the turnout today is 23%, and in our country – half have already voted! Let’s go to the store and take a look!

The school is full of kids. I ask the smallest, jokingly:

– Timur, who did you vote for?

Kid without hesitation

– For mom!

“DO NOT TERRIBLE, BUT DESTROY”

We intercept a young guy at the village store – I saw that they were voting, I went for a passport, and here I am with a camera. Arseniy tells how in March he and his family left the village for Mangush, to “ours, the Dnrovites”, with children in their arms, through mined fields, along paths, along the seashore. Forty kilometers in eight hours. Now he is graduating from college as a generalist auto mechanic, but since he is “friends” with computers, he is going to become a diagnostician, a “white collar” in auto repair.

Arseniy tells how in March he and his family left the village for Mangush, to “their own, the Dnrovites”

Arseniy tells how in March he and his family left the village for Mangush, to “their own, the Dnrovites”

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

From the ballot box, a voted man walks away in an obviously trophy, army fleece jacket. He explains to me:

– The referendum is my hope for a peaceful life. Write it down – no one persecuted me, I came myself, this is my decision. And all my friends and neighbors were here. Everyone wants to become Russians.

At the voting tables, the mother of two children Snezhana and the girl Lena. Lena at first refuses to speak, but, of course, she can’t stand it when I start to find out why the inhabitants of Mariupol were not allowed out of the city by the “invaders” from the Ukrainian army and “Azov”? Lena explains:

– They waited for the column to gather, with white flags, and shot it. Not to intimidate, but simply to destroy us.

Elena’s colleague, Snezhana, from the village of Volonterovka, near Mariupol. He says that the family survived only because the house had a stove and a basement:

– I know, for sure, it was Ukraine that shot Volonterovka, we had such a doomsday …

There was no queue at this polling station, but people came to vote literally every minute, only the ballot box shutter clapped.

The ruined city is being rebuilt

The ruined city is being rebuilt

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

LIFE IN THE BURNED “SQUARE”

Mariupol itself met us with traffic lights already in full swing, hundreds of cars, swept roads. The main issue since the summer is work for 200 thousand citizens (before the war there were almost 500 thousand inhabitants). The plant of Ilyich has already begun to recruit brigades from the workshops, all the rest were thrown into social work, and they cleaned the city as much as they could!

The house burned to the ground, there are simply no last floors, there is sky

The house burned to the ground, there are simply no last floors, there is sky

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

I am not going to deal with “varnishing reality”, so I turn to the Oktyabrsky district, to the so-called “square”. Sooty high-rise buildings here are located in such a way that they resemble fortress walls. The microdistrict itself on the hill, of course, the Azov people used it for defense. The tallest building – a 14-storey skyscraper, was gnawed from all sides – snipers sat in it, controlling almost a third of the city. They were knocked out by tanks for a long time. The impression of this “square” burnt in a circle is terrible. At one of the entrances we meet a flock of grandmothers. The house burned to the ground, there are simply no last floors, there is sky. I went upstairs to film the construction site – a modular building for fire victims is being quickly built there. Even on Saturday, in the pouring rain, work is in full swing.

14-story high-rise, gnawed from all sides

14-story high-rise, gnawed from all sides

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

I talk to fire victims. They live in the basement, cook on the second floor on the landing. The initiative is intercepted by Galina, it is felt that she is “the eldest in the stairwell.” Galina worked for 40 years as a physical education teacher at Azovstal, and her sports hardening and anger have been preserved in her:

A modular building for fire victims is under construction

A modular building for fire victims is under construction

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

– In August, a commission came, the house was demolished. We are offered a hostel, four people in a room, amenities on the floor. You go to a hostel and stay there for the rest of your life. But I can’t leave, you know? My kitchen survived, cabinets, things. I won’t be able to buy these things when I retire, what are the prices now …

– How much is the pension?

– 14 thousand 200 rubles.

Indeed, do not roam. The interlocutor clarifies – to go to the market three times. The rest of the grandmothers do not speak to the camera, but they completely agree with Galina – to sit in a burnt house until the last. I go to the car and fetch six rescue blankets, knowing in my heart that I am only delaying the inevitable denouement for the inhabitants of the ruins. They hug me, thank me, cry. And then it dawns on me that I’m trying to look for something rational in dealing with people with terrible military psychological trauma. Here, only in this entrance, three people died, burned down in apartments … Galina realizes that she has said too much:

– No, you do not think! I am for Russia! You see, I have a tricolor ribbon on my backpack! We are all waiting for the ballot box to be brought to us and we will vote!

Galina worked for 40 years as a physical education teacher at Azovstal

Galina worked for 40 years as a physical education teacher at Azovstal

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

FAITH HOPE LOVE!

In the yard of this creepy “square”, as if on purpose, in contrast, the renovation of an orange-and-white kindergarten is being completed. Probably a hundred finishers work at once. Locals hang batteries, Russians install playgrounds, electricians from Luhansk, tilers from Uzbekistan… Foreman Svetlana Gurina is a local. He says that the kindergarten is 99% completed, already three groups are completely filled with children. Everything will work in October.

Kindergarten is 99% complete

Kindergarten is 99% complete

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

Behind the “square”, near the monument to Shevchenko, there is a voting tent with a queue for about forty minutes. Nearby is a trailer with hot dogs and the proud inscription “Mariupol is Russia, period!”. I buy a hot dog, coffee. An elderly and smiling woman comes up to me, her name is Vera.

Mariupol is Russia, period!

Mariupol is Russia, period!

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

Originally from Orel, half her life she sailed around the world on the ships of the Tallinn Shipping Company. Towards the end of the USSR, my husband was transferred to Azovmash, to some secret workshop where tanks were made. Vera starts a conversation with me about the tragic death of Dasha Dugina, she remembers how Dasha came to Mariupol. In general, she is aware of all events:

– I do not separate myself from Russia, and even more so now. I didn’t wait for a site to be opened in our area, I came here, although I live far away. I came with my husband and son. What is my name? Faith and Hope and Love!

Vera spent half of her life sailing around the world on the ships of the Tallinn Shipping Company

Vera spent half of her life sailing around the world on the ships of the Tallinn Shipping Company

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

“TIME MACHINE” WITH THE SIGN “CHILDREN”

I drive through the city and consider Vera’s last words. More than once or twice, the townspeople told me that they had long understood: “You can only hope for Russia.” And Russia does not allow to doubt it. You can stumble upon construction sites in any corner of Mariupol. Even in the most unpretentious place, on an ordinary, gray high-rise building, yellowish beam cranes flaunt, with their help they lift building materials. When will the city return to its original form? At this rate, very soon. To spring.

You can stumble upon construction sites in any corner of Mariupol

You can stumble upon construction sites in any corner of Mariupol

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

The last point in Mariupol, this is already a month as a completed quarter for 2500 inhabitants, with a kindergarten and a school. In contrast, exactly opposite this quarter, there is a dump of broken military equipment and crippled civilian vehicles.

Quarter for 2500 inhabitants, with a kindergarten and a school

Quarter for 2500 inhabitants, with a kindergarten and a school

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

They were brought here from all over the city. Peaceful cars and cars with blue stripes of the Ukrainian army. “Tesla” of one of the Bandera commanders with an obscene message to Elon Musk on the windshield. I shudder at the sight of the familiar crippled, shot “Gazelle” with the inscription “Children”.

If there is no conscience, it is very convenient to fight on a van with the inscription

If there is no conscience, it is very convenient to fight on a van with the inscription “Children”

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

The first time I met her outside the Drama Theater in early April, she was standing across the road on flat tires. I know the history of this car. Refugees with a dozen children tried to get out of the city on it, but Ukrainian soldiers threw them out of the car.

Exactly opposite this block, a dump of broken military equipment and crippled civilian vehicles

Exactly opposite this block, a dump of broken military equipment and crippled civilian vehicles

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

If there is no conscience, it is very convenient to fight on a van with the inscription “Children”. I look inside. Everything is as it was: a plastic baby potty is lying around, baby jeans and blouses, maternal cosmetics scattered on the floor and crushed … I break out in sweat from this spectacle, for a second it throws me back from September to April. With difficulty, but I understand that everything is over, and I slam the door of the van with a bang.

A photo: Dmitry STESHIN

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