ABC News’ James Longman reports from Ukraine.
Natalia’s escape from Mariupol, Ukraine, as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his invasion of the country, means taking his family’s life into his own hands. After more than two weeks of waiting, he said he and his neighbors decided they had to flee the besieged city.
He said he crushed his elderly parents and four cats in a small car and quickly drove them out of Mariupol.
He described to ABC News that street people had passed by on the outskirts of the city.
“People were looking at us as if we were living from the dead. They thought everyone inside was dead,” he recalled.
We talked in the small apartment that he was offered by a friend in Lviv. She is about 5’5 years old, with silvery hair, coated on each side of her face. There is a hint of determination about him. She is furious.
One of her cats – Micah – is crouching on a makeshift mattress in the kitchen in the afternoon sun. That’s where Natalia sleeps. Her parents, both in their 80s, took up the bed next to them.
He told us about the corpses lying on the side of the road. Residents had no choice but to leave the bodies on the streets between the shelling and the attack. She told us about her journey to find food and other supplies. Without electricity or heat, he would have to dare to cook out ingredients and Russian bombs. Her parents were old enough to continue going to the shelter, so they waited as soon as the bombs approached their apartment.
The story of his regular people banding together. Neighbors are whispering rumors that they have heard what is happening. Collectively sharing food and information for survival.
“I was feeling helpless. And then I realized I had to help myself,” she said.
Natalia said she went out regularly to find services on her phone, desperate to know if anyone was coming. “We were completely alone. We had no information.”
As we speak, an air strike siren goes off. She shakes. “We didn’t get a warning in Mariupol. They just bombed us,” he said.
I asked her if her parents were worried.
“They are used to it now,” he replied.
I can see the relief in his face that his parents can finally rest. For now.
Natalia embodies the story of her country, which we all saw play out this past week: determination to survive and resist. And he has survived the worst of what this war is doing. But thousands more like him are still trapped in Mariupol.