“Anything Seemed Better than Lying Dead in Mariupol”: Ukrainians Speak about Being Taken to Russia

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Korbonova survived a missile strike in Mariupol. When shrapnel from a bomb pierced one of her boots, she said, her friend yelled at her not to cry, there was a man lying next to her with no head. She goes to smoke every 30 minutes.

She also left Mariupol in a bus of Russians who told her that it was too dangerous in Ukraine. She passed through a filtration camp in Novoazovsk, which has been part of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic since 2014, where she had to strip down to her underwear. Like Krasnikov, she was taken to Taganrog. In the gymnasium there, she says helpers told her she would be going to Khabarovsk, deep in eastern Russia. “You can find your dream job there.” She says she wasn’t given any choice in the matter.

But, Korbonova says: “Anything seemed better than lying dead in Mariupol.” Together with her sister and her sister’s family, she boarded the train that traveled across Russia. The journey lasted nine days. She says the views were wonderful. Meadows, deep forests. The train stopped every now and then and they would buy vodka.

She recounts that the 550 refugees from Mariupol arrived in Khabarovsk on April 29 at noon. Here, too, there was a crowd at the station. “Everyone wanted to talk to us.” Korbonova says she pulled her hood over her head until she arrived at her new accommodations. On the video that she later showed to the New York Times, you can see a neatly prepared room with a television. Unlike Vladyslav Krasnikov, Korbonova tried to start a new life in Russia.

The choices presented to her by the employment office included becoming a “cleaning lady, an administrator or ticket controller” on public transportation. They wanted to pay her around 15,000 rubles a month, the equivalent of about 250 euros. In order to work, though, she would have had to give up her Ukrainian passport and take Russian citizenship. There was also a condition that she not leave the Khabarovsk region for the time being. For that they offered her another 650,000 rubles, about 10,600 euros. “I didn’t want to do that,” she says.

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