"I live in Mariupol and I want to leave for Ukraine. I saw that the Ukrainian authorities are calling to leave, but they don't explain how to do it. It's scary and unknown. Please help", - 19-year-old resident of the occupied city Alina addressed OstroV.
According to her, lack of official information prevents many residents of the occupied region from making a decision to leave.
"It was somehow easier when the information about humanitarian corridors was available. Some people managed to leave. But I couldn't do this at that time, because I had to be with my family and help them. They would not have coped without me", - the girl confesses.
Indeed, there has been no official information about the work of humanitarian corridors for more than two months. Due to the constant shelling by the russian troops, the Ukrainian side cannot ensure their safety.
But this does not mean that people have stopped leaving the occupation. According to the Mariupol’s mayor Vadym Boychenko, around a hundred of Mariupol residents come to the controlled territory of Ukraine every day.
"It is almost impossible to leave Mariupol today. The evacuation continues, although not as numerous, as it was before. Nowadays 70-120 Mariupol residents reach the controlled part of our state per day. They are frightened, tired and make this decision because there is protection, law and everything else to support them. And we are waiting for them here", - he said on the air of the national telethon.
All these people leave both by their own cars, as well as using the services of carriers at their own peril and risk, since no one can guarantee their safety. In addition, some people get to the controlled territory of Ukraine through russia and European countries.
"My friend left Mariupol for russia, and from there, she bought a plane ticket to Istanbul. Now she has already reached Poland and is going to get to Kyiv. It is very tiring, expensive and takes a lot of time. Unfortunately, I don’t have such an opportunity. But I want to leave", - Alina told us.
The girl strongly refused to leave through the russian territory, so we were figuring out how to get to the controlled territory of Ukraine through the Zaporizhzhia oblast.
To leave or to stay
Since the end of May, Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories Iryna Vereshchuk began to actively urge Ukrainians who live in the territories temporarily occupied by russia to leave for the controlled part of Ukraine.
"The life of all Ukrainians has changed after February 24. This is especially true for those who now live in the temporarily occupied territories. It is very hard for them now. Many of them now have to make difficult fateful decisions for themselves and their families", - she notes.
"Without delving into legal, political and moral issues", Iryna Vereshchuk advised the following:
1) Move to the controlled territory.
"I know that it's not easy, but find ways and opportunities. In the end, it's about your safety and the fate of you and your children", - she says.
2) Do not accept a russian passport.
"It can be difficult, but in the long run, russian citizenship will create more problems for you than benefits", - Iryna Vereshchuk says.
"So, do not accept russian passports and do not stay in the occupation", - the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine summed up.
Not everyone liked Iryna Vereshchuk’s appeal. The comments to her social media post show that people do not understand how they can leave in the absence of official humanitarian corridors.
"How is it possible to leave? I’m from Kherson! It’s very dangerous! This trip may be your last one. It is scary to remain here, but leaving is also dangerous. Though this should not split Ukrainian society! Thank God, those Soviet times are gone, when all those who remained in the occupation were considered to be traitors! Enable humanitarian corridors! Although... oh... what am I talking about, it's unrealistic", - one of the Internet users wrote.
"Are they crazy??? Does nobody tell them about the people who passed 39 checkpoints, and were sent back at the 40th? About the people who got captured and tortured? Or about shot cars and boats?", - someone else commented.
A number of human rights organizations also criticized Vereshchuk’s statement, noting that the call for leaving the occupied territories from the Ukrainian authorities should be accompanied by information about guaranteed safe evacuation corridors, further accommodation possibilities, assistance and support that the state, international organizations and public volunteer initiatives are ready to provide them. However, everyone agrees that leaving is the best solution: on the one hand, there is a danger of repressions and deterioration in living conditions, on the other hand, sooner or later, the AFU will liberate the territories and it will not be safe to stay there.
"Leave! The occupied part will inevitably become a zone of active hostilities. And the nature of these military actions will be determined by today's tactics of the parties: it is beneficial for moscow to leave Ukraine with scorched land and a minimum of able-bodied population. This is not propaganda, this is the logic of events due to economic, military and geopolitical trends, as well as existing practice and historical experience", - journalist and political expert Serhiy Harmash says.
The Ministry for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories has launched an additional hotline number for citizens in the temporarily occupied territories.
"If you do not have cellular network connection, but only access to the Internet, you can leave a message or call via WhatsApp/Telegram/Viber at +38(096) 078 84 33 (24/7)", - the department notes.
There you can get information on humanitarian issues, obtaining an IDP status and returning from temporarily occupied territories to Ukraine, including persons who were forcibly relocated to the russian federation.
Alina from Mariupol called the hotline, but she was only advised to use Telegram chat bot @Evacuation2022_bot, which she had already contacted before.
According to the girl, after filling out the application, no one contacted her for two weeks. Therefore, she decided to look for ways to leave on her own.
If you eventually decide to leave occupied Mariupol, there are several ways:
1) through the territory of russia,
2) through the Crimea,
3) through the Zaporizhzhia oblast.
You can drive your own vehicle or use one of lots of carriers.
Regardless of how you decide to leave Mariupol, you need to go through the filtration first. Only after receiving such a certificate, you can more or less freely move around the territory occupied by the rashists and, accordingly, leave from there.
"Filtration is a procedure to prevent persons involved in the security forces of Ukraine, members of nationalist battalions and members of sabotage and reconnaissance groups, as well as their accomplices, from entering the territory of the DNR and the liberated territories", - the occupiers explain.
Filtration is held in different settlements. As a rule, it does not take much time. But the main problem, according to local residents, is to get on it. In some places, the queue is scheduled weeks in advance, and many people cannot wait that long.
In this case, you can buy a place in the queue for a convenient day. Such "services" are popular in local Telegram channels, prices start at $16. Recently, carriers started to collect people, take them to the filtration site by bus and bring them back. On average, such a "tour" costs around $48.
Alina and her family went through filtration in Manhush. Initially, their turn was for mid-July, but for $16 per person, they "sped it up" by almost three weeks.
"We were three women with Mariupol residence permits, so the procedure took 30 minutes for each person. They asked general questions about our life, what we do, whether we have any relatives in the AFU, do we support the russian federation and what are plans for the future. They also asked about our mobile phones, but did not look through them. After that, we filled out a questionnaire, they took our photos and fingerprints", - she recalls.
But according to Alina, not everyone is as lucky. While, as a rule, they only talk to women, men are taken to a separate room, where they are undressed and interrogated in more detail.
"They check for tattoos, carefully look through phones, talk to them very rudely. We heard how a man was interrogated with obscenities and screams, and then he was taken out in just shorts and was shoved into a bus. As we understood, the bus is being filled with suspicious people (from their point of view) during the day, and those people are taken somewhere", - the girl told OstroV.
After the filtration is passed, it becomes possible to move freely between the settlements of the occupied regions.
After passing the filtration, Alina faced the issue of how to get to the free part of Ukraine.
Direct road and suspicious carriers
The fastest, cheapest and most common way that we found with Alina is to come from Mariupol to Berdiansk (Zaporizhzhia oblast), from where buses run to Zaporizhzhia.
According to adviser of Mariupol’s mayor Petro Andriushchenko, since the end of June, the russian occupiers have softened the regime of leaving for Zaporizhzhia.
"We see the easing of the regime for leaving towards Zaporizhzhia through Berdiansk. They have partially started to let the private cars pass. It is still very limited, but the process has begun... do not miss the opportunity. Evacuate while there is such a "window", - he says.
This is evidenced by the huge number of carriers that have appeared over the past few weeks. Social networks are full of ads from carriers that offer to leave Berdiansk for the controlled territory of Ukraine.
Prices for a trip start from $68 and reach up to $342. It all depends on the type of vehicle and who is driving. If the passenger is a girl who has a filtration certificate, as a rule, she will be charged the minimum price. If we are talking about a guy of military age, then the price will be higher. There are carriers who refuse to take male passengers at all.
Some carriers even offer an all-inclusive service: everyone is taken for filtration at first and from there, immediately to Zaporizhzhia. This service costs $300. According to the carrier, with whom OstroV managed to talk, he guarantees quick filtration process without phone checking and unnecessary questions. The main condition is payment in cash in dollars.
"As you understand, I’ll give half to the filtration personnel. These are trusted guys, I drive a couple of times a week past them, they haven’t turned anyone in yet. The main thing is that your surname should have a clean record in their database. I take 5-10 passengers, they are filtered quickly and in an hour, we are on the road. I am taking them through the checkpoints that I already know, so there should not be any checks. I am responsible for this", - the carrier said.
He also noted that one should not trust carriers who "charge $68 per passenger". According to him, these buses stand at checkpoints for hours, undergo thorough checks, and not everyone is let through.
"If you don’t bribe the military, you won’t leave normally, so it’s better not to get fooled by cheap trips", - he urged.
By the way, he also offered to sell cash dollars at an interesting rate: 1 US dollar = 45 hryvnias (on average, it is 35-36 in Ukrainian exchangers). If I have money on the card, then I can transfer it to him, but for an additional "tax" of 15%. The carrier refused to take rubles. He says that it is better to exchange them for hryvnias at first, and then go to him.
Bus carriers announce cheaper prices: $68-103. But they immediately warn that the trip can take from 1 to 3 days.
"A lot does not depend on us", - they say.
To an additional question about how safe it is to drive and whether there are shellings, they say that "they can't guarantee anything, everything can happen".
You can read stories in social networks and local publics about how people come under fire on the road from Berdiansk to Zaporizhzhia. Most often, the columns are simply stopped until the shelling stops, so the travel time can take up to several days.
In addition, there are dozens of occupation checkpoints during the trip, where they can find fault with various trifles and, thus, delay the route. There are cases when one checkpoint let everyone through after checking the documents, and at another, someone is taken out of the bus and detained. Therefore, it is recommended in social networks to stock up on small money for bribes (as a rule, this is $17).
Together with Alina from Mariupol, we managed to find a Berdiansk-Zaporizhzhia carrier with good reviews. The price is $103, if there is filtration. Departure – twice a week.
Separately, we found a carrier who took Alina from Mariupol to Berdiansk. It cost another $68.
The girl had to stay longer in Berdiansk, as her bus delayed the trip for three days. As the driver explained, this was due to long queues at the checkpoints. Sometimes they pass quickly, and sometimes, the russians generally refuse to let through and disperse the queue.
"As a result, the departure of the bus was delayed for several days, since it was not allowed out of Zaporizhzhia for a long time. We drove for two days. They stopped us almost at every checkpoint, checked documents and things and shone flashlights in our faces. Men of the military age were taken out separately and asked to take the T-shirts off, their phones were inspected as well. But they let everyone go. As the driver told us later, we were lucky this time, everyone got there. Apparently, far from everyone gets there, and men are dropped off - I often heard about this and read on social networks", - she told.
They once heard some explosions and shots during the trip. According to the driver, they are far away, so you can drive calmly, the road has recently become more or less safe, and there are no direct shellings.
Alina arrived in Zaporizhzhia on June 25 early in the morning.
"Now I want to relax a bit and think about how to live on", - she admitted.
Separately, I want to talk about scammers who pretend to be carriers, promise to take you out and demand an advance payment. Of course, after you send the money, they block you and disappear. Therefore, now most ads immediately go out with the clarification "Without prepayment". But even there, you can fall for scammers.
Alina from Mariupol connected us with her friend, who failed to leave Berdiansk twice because she fell for scammers.
"There was a standard story with an advance payment at first. I found a beautiful announcement "Evacuation from Mariupol". I was told there that it was almost a charity fund that takes people to Ukraine, that they don’t need money, but only a charitable contribution for gasoline and for people in need. A very beautiful story that I believed in. They even called me on Viber and told me everything very politely. They asked me to send at least $3 so that they would definitely reserve a place for me. But it is better to send $17 to be sure. I don’t know, what came over me, but I believed and sent it. After that, they disappeared", - Svitlana from Mariupol told OstroV.
According to her, for some time, most of those who wanted to leave came across scammers who demanded an advance payment. When the "scheme" was revealed, new types of scammers appeared.
They do not require prepayment, what is repeated several times. But on the day of "departure", swindlers gather people in one place, take money from them, say that the bus will arrive now and immediately disappear.
"This was the second time I got caught. The trip was scheduled near the Equator shopping center, there were 7 of us. We were promised a small comfortable minibus for $120 each. A girl came up, showed some kind of badge and asked for our documents, then took out a list and asked for money, we signed the form for them. Nothing aroused suspicion. Until she left for another order with the phrase "5 minutes and the bus will come from around the corner". Of course, no one came", - she recalls.
She managed to leave only in the second half of June, when there was already a choice of carriers, and the routes were really established. She chose a private car that took three people. The girl paid $171 and arrived "quickly and comfortably".
"If you can call comfort 5 or 7 checkpoints where we were stopped and each time, humiliatingly interrogated with the phrases: "Where are you going? Why are you turning tails? Do you think it is better with Ukes?" And stuff like that. Our driver had already driven several times, so he knew what to answer them. The only minus is that he, like many others, does not carry men. He says that they are most often left at the checkpoints. And he is already a pensioner, so he is not afraid of anything", - Svitlana told OstroV.
Another fraudulent scheme that we unexpectedly encountered is the work of so-called intermediaries. We responded to one of the Berdiansk-Zaporizhzhia travel announcements, said that a relative would go, and we simply organize a trip for her. We were told the price, date and place of boarding.
"The most important thing is to say that you are from Serhiy N. (we changed the name - ed.)", - they wrote to us right away.
We left this unattended, but on the day of "departure", Serhiy N. began to write to us persistently and ask if everything was fine and whether the relative got on the bus.
Without giving us a chance to answer, the man immediately informed that there might be no connection with her, as the driver asked all passengers to immediately turn off their mobile phones. Therefore, we will not be able to call or write to the relative.
"I'll write to the driver myself and find out everything", - he wrote.
After a couple of minutes, he happily announced that a relative was on the bus, everything was fine and they were already on their way.
"I am waiting for payment of $34 for my intermediary services. Don’t worry, your relative paid the driver less", - Serhiy N. immediately replied.
Of course, no relative was going anywhere, and we just fell for the next scammers…
The main advice for those who intend to travel is to look for proven carriers (preferably, with reviews) that do not require prepayment.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV