January 22, 2023

Maksym Kasyanchuk: Now all of Ukraine is feeling a little bit of what we felt in Mariupol

During the full-scale Russian invasion in Ukraine, Mariupol became probably the most famous Ukrainian city. Unfortunately, its name thundered around the world in the context of brutal destruction by the Russians. Cynical shelling of the maternity hospital and the residential areas, dropping bombs on the Drama Theater, with the word “CHILDREN” written in huge letters, mass murders of civilians and hundreds of thousands of stories full of hellish pain.

Ukrainian scientist, researcher at the Institute of Sociology, human rights defender Maksym Kasyanchuk was in Mariupol when big war began. He is one of those who were lucky to survive and leave the destroyed city.

In conversation with Bogdan Globa, Maksym Kasyanchuk talked about life under constant shelling, evacuation filtration, imprisonment and the consequences of what he experienced.

On the beginning of a big war

The war for me began with the sound of explosion on February 24. As it turned out later, it was very close, about 500 meters from my house. In a few days, such attacks were already more massive and frequent. Now all of Ukraine feels a little bit of what we felt then in Mariupol.

In the early days, when the bombs were not falling so much on my head, I went to the store. There was no panic then: garbage was taken out, public transport was working, shops were open. Although small jewelry boutiques in shopping centers disappeared almost immediately. In supermarkets, the shelves were very empty: there was only bread and some canned goods. There was still some wine and champagne, that’s what I bought along with bread. It came handy later.

I stayed in Mariupol until the city was completely occupied by the Russians. There was a reason for this. Back in January, I came there to visit my old father. He could hardly see anymore, and he needed help. When the war started, my father did not want to move to my house, but stayed in his apartment. Then the shelling became so massive that I couldn’t visit him. At the end of March, it calmed down a bit, I went to see him and learned that he had died. After that I decided to leave the city.

**On filtration **

In order to leave Mariupol, it was necessary to go through Russian filtration. The algorithm is as follows: a free bus picks you up from the checkpoint and brings you to a village near Mariupol, they place you in a school, then another bus picks you up from there and takes directly to another village for filtration.

Organizational order at the school was maintained by volunteers from the youth wing of United Russia. Their task was to form lists of who and when goes to filtration. I was running out of medicine so I went and told them about it. The next day I was already on the lists. We were taken to the House of Culture in some town near Donetsk. You could eat there, connect to the Internet. That’s where the formal filtration procedure took place. It was necessary to fill out a questionnaire: enter personal data and answer a few completely biased questions. For example: “How do you assess the actions of the criminal Kyiv regime during this war?” Then they looked at the passport, checked the questionnaire. I still had my fingers checked for calluses from shooting guns.

On being in prison

I had an Estonian ID card and it kept confusing them. Because of this, I avoided mobilization, although I had a Donetsk residence registration. However, I had a problem. I was already supposed to receive documents about passing the filtration, but the database revealed that I evaded payment of some debts, there even was a court order. They didn’t bother to explain what happened, but they asked me to put signature that I had seen this paper. I refused, so I was sent to prison.

At first, they were very lenient. They allowed me to take coffee, Estonian book so that I wouldn’t get bored and could read, glasses. It was much better in the cell than in the basement in Mariupol, there was light, heat, water. But in the morning, another policeman came, and they put me against the wall, stripped me, and took everything they could. Then the court order arrived, they read it to me, gave a copy, I confirmed receipt of this paper with my signature and went to Donetsk to pay off my debts. I still don’t agree that I have any debts, but I didn’t want to argue with them. I paid $500 - and I was removed from the debtors list and issued a document on passing the filtration.

Meeting with FSB

The second filtration took place on the Russian-Latvian border. There was already a real serious interrogation with the FSB. They were knowledgeable and asked questions based on specific details of my life. They asked about participation in Euromaidan and events after the Revolution of Dignity. And here it was obvious that I should not say anything. Therefore, of course, I kept silent about the fact that I trained the Mariupol police, half of whom are my graduates. All this information is available in open Ukrainian registers. But I really wondered why they couldn’t Google it. As it turned out, they entered my first name, last name, and patronymic in Russian into the search engine. When asked in Ukrainian, it gives information about my human rights activities and participation in Euromaidan, including photos.

About life on antidepressants Staying in Mariupol during the war affected my health. I came to Estonia very thin. But along with this, my mental health was shaken too. I am currently taking antidepressants. This has been going on for half a year. The fact that I can now speak calmly means that the pills are working.

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