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A man escaped from the encircled Mariupol by swimming for 2,5 hours along the occupied shoreline in the cold seawater

A man escaped from the encircled Mariupol by swimming for 2,5 hours along the occupied shoreline in the cold seawater

“My teeth were chattering. I hid behind one of the bottles so no-one could see me. Sometimes I rested on top of the float,” that was how Dmytro Yurin described to “The Guardian” what he felt while swimming out of the nightmarely bombed city of Mariupol on the shore of the Sea of Azov in the south of Ukraine.

A keen fisherman, before the war he had spent hours on the Sea of Azov. So he found his fishing waders, previously used for digging up worms. He took two rubbish bags to tie around his socks, some string, and four 5-litre plastic bottles, for use as buoyancy aids.

In such an improvised costume Dmytro set off on foot towards the beach early in the evening. He passed ruined blocks of flats. “There were a few people out looking for water. Someone asked me for cigarettes. Otherwise the city was deserted. I took a path I knew to the seafront. It was cold.”

Before that on March 16, 2022, a Russian bomb struck Mariupol drama theatre. Yurin’s flat in Prospect Mira was a couple of hundred meters away, across a square with a fountain. The theatre had become a capacious air raid shelter. Hundreds of women and children were inside.

“It was terrible, a massive blast, an enormous explosion. I heard cries and screams,” Yurin said. “I saw bodies and bits of bodies. I pulled one woman out, then a girl, and then a boy. All were hurt. The boy’s legs didn’t move. He was screaming. My hands were shaking. I was covered in blood.” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says 300 people were killed.

Yurin said, that was when he came up with an extraordinary plan to swim to safety. He swam out 150 metres, parallel to the shore, and started heading west. The water was freezing. He swam for two and a half hours. The 2.5-mile route took him past the Russian position at Rybatske and to the village of Melekine, which before the war was a beach resort. He staggered out. He found an elderly couple who took him in. The village was under Russian control. With the help of a neighbour, Yurin managed to board a minivan heading for the port of Berdiansk, also occupied by Russian forces. He said the Russian soldiers on the checkpoint ignored him. “They were 17 or 18 years old,” he recalled. From Berdiansk he was able to cross into Ukraine-administered territory.

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