Mariupol family's escape from 'hell on Earth'

Less than a month ago Svetlana Vodznyanska-Zhyvoglyad and her family were happily living in Mariupol and then Russia invaded, ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports

Even if it were possible for journalists to travel easily into Mariupol, I am sure I wouldn’t have the courage to go. So, instead I try to talk to some of the thousands of refugees from that city who have made their way to Lviv, in the west of Ukraine.

They tell stories of a hell on earth. Svetlana Vodznyanska-Zhyvoglyad sits across the table from me with her three children and her husband Roman next to her. Her head is wrapped in a blood-stained bandage and her right eye is swollen and black.

They drove out of their neighbourhood as bombs fell around them. The road was peppered with shell holes and sometimes made impassable by downed power lines.

She shouted at her children to keep looking down at the floor of the car. An attempt to shield them from the terror, and the sight of dead bodies along the roadside.

Svetlana Vodonyanska tried to shield her children from seeing the horrors of Mariupol.

She is full of the trauma that comes of a living in a city under siege. She describes a place in the centre of town where it was possible to get some phone signal.

Word got around and people began to gather there, desperate to let loved know that they were still alive. And then the Russians bombed it. Many were killed, Svetlana said.

Her whole family have become experts on what Russian weapons sound like.

Her children listen and correct her as she mimics the sound of grad missiles flying over their house. Roman winces as his wife recreates the whooshing noise of a cluster bomb releasing its shrapnel-laden spores.

The eldest daughter, Diana weeps with anger. Her beautiful city has been destroyed. Not even a month ago she was studying for her high school diploma.

Now her school no longer exists. Atrocity is not enough to describe what the Russians have done, she says.

Ukrainian emergency employees work at a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, earlier in March. Credit: AP

The family is outraged, angry and determined. "Our soldiers will defend our city, and we will return, to repair what has been broken," promises Svetlana.

Her younger daughter lifts her head and looks straight at me as she says it. Their defiance fills the room.

An elderly gentleman - a friend of the family has stood in the corner throughout our conversation, but has said nothing. As we said our goodbyes, one of our local translators, Cristina, asked him about the progress of the battle for the city.

Is Mariupol still ours?

The old man replied with two words. ‘Mariupol nemayer.’ Mariupol is no more.

Listen to the latest analysis on the Ukraine crisis in ITV News' podcast: