Anne K. Howard

20 Days in Mariupol vs. Escape from Mariupol: A Survivor’s True Story Pt. 2

20 Days in Mariupol vs. Escape from Mariupol: A Survivor’s True Story.

This is the second installment in a three-part series reviewing the documentary,
20 Days in Mariupol
, as it relates to the book that I co-authored with Adoriana Marik,
Escape from Mariupol: A Survivor’s True Story

It is with a heavy heart that I write this month’s blog post.

As we enter the third year of Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine, I’m terrified that some Americans
are succumbing to far-right propaganda minimizing the dangers that Putin and Russia pose to our democracy.

History dictates that such denial and isolationist apathy only leads to further escalation.
For this reason, it behooves all Americans to watch the Oscar-nominated documentary, 20 Days in Mariupol,
and they should also read Escape from Mariupol: A Survivor’s True Story.
By watching and reading true accounts of the genocide that took place in Mariupol we can better
understand Russia’s menace to global democracy, stability, and peace.
Let’s examine some disturbing elements of both stories:

In our book, Escape from Mariupol, Adoriana witnesses the death of a young Ukrainian girl and
her parents as they attempt to flee Mariupol only to drive over a landmine that instantly kills the
entire family. There would be no proper burial for these innocent civilians; their bodies were left
to decompose in that car. They likely ended up in one of the mass graves revealed in 20 Days in Mariupol,
in which bodies of civilians, some of them children, were wrapped in body bags and thrown into pits.

Adoriana recalls the horror of seeing the little girl’s bloody pink puffer coat blowing from the car
door in the weeks that followed the child’s murder. It was yet another reminder of Russia’s
inhumanity. Adoriana also hid in a basement alongside a mother and her young infant and
watched as the infant rapidly declined due to malnourishment, sickness, and cold. It appears that
Russia could have cared less about the civilian suffering and casualties in Mariupol. An early
scene in 20 Days in Mariupol depicts young parents mourning the death of their 18-month-old
child, killed in Russia’s ruthless bombing. Westerners must never forget who caused the
suffering: Putin and his authoritarian regime.

Bombing Hospitals and Civilian Structures

We’ve all seen the shocking footage out of Gaza, where refugee camps and hospitals are
routinely bombed, and 1.7 million civilians continue to suffer without a way out. To date, about
29,000 civilians have been killed in Gaza, following four months of repeated bombing. I bring up
Gaza to put the plight of Mariupol in perspective. Ukrainian officials estimate that approximately.
25,000 civilians died in Mariupol in the early weeks, not months, of Russia’s invasion. Putin’s
“shock and awe” strategy was cold-blooded and heartless, and, most importantly, illegal.
20 Days in Mariupol also depicts such crimes against humanity with chilling accuracy.

Pregnant woman in Mariupol – Credit:

Most of us have seen the heart-breaking footage of a pregnant Ukrainian woman being rescued
from the rubble in Mariupol. A pink and green sheet covers the stretcher on which she is carried,
the vibrant colors contrasting with an apocalyptic landscape. She and the infant in her womb subsequently died.

The tragedy reminds us that Russia did not prioritize the bombing of military installments.
Rather, it recklessly sought to destroy everything, and everyone, in the city’s 94 square mile radar.
In response to the devastation, Russia claimed actors were used and the images were not real.
There is no evidence to support that ludicrous assertion.

In Escape, Adoriana witnessed the destruction of Mariupol’s central hospital. After five weeks of
hiding underground, she walked to the hospital where a large Russian flag marked the entryway.
She stayed overnight on the hospital’s eighth floor before being evacuated to Russian-occupied

We stayed in the wards where patients who were seriously ill with COVID were
treated before the war. The windows were all blown out. Shattered glass was
everywhere. Folders containing patients’ case histories were strewn across the
floor, covered in the piss and shit of Russian soldiers.

This brings home the staggering fact that no place was safe in Mariupol. Case in point—a
scene in 20 Days in Mariupol in which the journalists learn that a nurse was just shot by
a Russian sniper outside the hospital’s entrance.

Looting and Mayhem

Port City Mall, before bombing – Credit:

By March 4, Port City Mall was destroyed. In Escape from Mariupol, Adoriana recalls
running past the structure and considering going inside to loot food. She had not eaten for
days. Then a bomb dropped on one side of the mall, and she quickly changed her mind.
20 Days in Mariupol and Escape from Mariupol both reference the looting that took
place in the early weeks of Russia’s invasion. In 20 Days, the camera captures broken
ATMs and empty store shelves. Ukrainian soldiers chastise a teenager for stealing
electronics from a Foxtrot store.

Port City Mall, after bombing – Credit

In Escape, Adoriana describes stealing a bag of kibble from a nearby pet store. It was a
desperate act ensuring that her beloved Husky did not starve while hiding underground.
Other civilians in the basement where she hid stole alcohol, cigarettes, food, water, and
anything else they could get their hands on. While some looting was justified, other
looting involved criminal intent. It’s hard to draw the line, given that many of us would
be tempted to steal when faced with months of deprivation.

Prayers aren’t enough. Please contact your representative in Congress and urge them
to pass the current bipartisan bill that gives additional funding for Ukraine. The
soldiers are running out of bullets. They need more weapons, and long-range missiles.
Together, NATO countries can secure victory for Ukraine.