Mariupol family risks all just to tell teen daughter in Israel: ‘We are alive’

Vika Korotkova drives out to location with phone reception, reports that city subjected to heavy Russian bombardment and without heat, food, water, or communications, ‘is dead’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Vika and Ksiusha Korotkova in Mariupol, Ukraine in September 2021, on the day Ksiusha left for Israel. (Courtesy: Alina Gryadchenko)
Vika and Ksiusha Korotkova in Mariupol, Ukraine in September 2021, on the day Ksiusha left for Israel. (Courtesy: Alina Gryadchenko)

A Ukrainian family in Mariupol, a city that has suffered massive bombing and has had little contact with the outside world for days, risked everything to drive to a location where there is still phone reception to get a message to their 14-year-old daughter in Israel: “We are alive.”

On Tuesday, Vika Korotkova, who has been sheltering with her husband and younger daughter Sofia, phoned Christians for Israel, a Netherlands-based organization devoted to bringing Jews to Israel that also operates in Ukraine.

It was Christians for Israel that sponsored a flight to Israel in September for Vika’s daughter Ksiusha, within the framework of the Jewish Agency’s Naale program for high school students from the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.

Ksiusha is currently studying at a school in Jerusalem.

Fieldworker Alina Gryadchenko told The Times of Israel what Korotkova told her on the phone.

“We live in total isolation, in fear, danger, and without any hope for better. There are no lights and [there is] no water, no heating, no phone connection.”

Ksiusha Korotkova shows the Israeli visa she received at Kyiv’s Boryspil International Airport in September 2021. (Courtesy: Alina Gryadchenko)

“[This] is the only place where it is still possible to catch a signal. Risking our lives, we drove there to make one or two phone calls to let our friends know that we are still alive.

“We charge our phone from the running engine of the car for as long as we have enough diesel. When that runs out, we will not have even this chance to stay in touch with the world.

“We are dirty, everybody looks like beggars, we get water from the sea. It snowed for several days and people collect snow to get some water to drink.

“The stores are empty, there is nothing to eat and it’s cold all the time.”

Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine, is a key Russian target. Taking it would help Moscow to connect Crimea, which it invaded in 2014, with the Russian-backed separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The city, the tenth-largest in Ukraine, has been under siege and continual bombardment since February 24. Since February 28, it has been without electricity, gas, or internet connection.

Russians and Ukrainians have agreed three times to establish a humanitarian corridor for residents of Mariupol to leave, but on each occasion, Russian forces continued shelling the city, Ukraine has said.

According to Vika Korotkova, “Mariupol is in ruins. The downtown is gone. There is nothing left. Mariupol does not exist anymore, it is dead.”

“Every day we are promised a corridor, but nothing happens. We are afraid to leave, as we do not trust we will not be killed. The trucks with supplies and humanitarian aid were on their way to Mariupol but had to turn around and go back to Zaporizhzhia,” she said.

People walk next to an apartment building hit by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

“I do not know how long this will last and if we will survive the blockade.”

Alina Gryadchenko, who took notes during the call and speaks fluent English, said, “Vika asked me to send a message to her daughter that they were alive as the signal is very weak for internet connection, which I did.”

“It was like a gift for Women’s Day. If only we could have celebrated with flowers and cakes.”

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