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A resident of Mariupol tells her story after fleeing the city's horrific destruction

DEBBIE ELLIOT, HOST:

As Russia continues to lay siege in Ukraine, the southern port city of Mariupol has seen some of the most horrific destruction.

ALINA BESKROVNA: I don't have a home anymore. I don't have an office anymore. I don't have a hometown anymore.

ELLIOT: Alina Beskrovna is 31 years old. She's an IT worker who got her MBA at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, then moved back to her hometown of Mariupol.

BESKROVNA: It all happened so quickly. You know, you have this, like, blooming city, and you are free, and you can just work. You can build your career. And that's why I stayed. To see it unfold like that in just four weeks - everything is just destroyed.

ELLIOT: For much of this month, Beskrovna and hundreds of thousands of others in the city had been almost completely cut off as Russian attacks decimated infrastructure and pulverized residential neighborhoods. Local officials say more than 2,400 civilians have been killed. Now, as residents are finally able to flee, they're telling their harrowing stories. And we begin this hour with Alina Beskrovna, who had just escaped Mariupol with her mother by car. She described what the war has been like there.

BESKROVNA: I left my apartment building on the day Putin declared war on Ukraine and moved to my friends' house on the other side of town because they had a better basement. I've heard that my apartment building has been bombed and the district is no longer there. I've heard multiple neighbors have been killed. My dad lived on the other side of town. He refused to join us and told me he would walk by foot if need be. And I haven't heard from him since February 27. I don't know if he's alive. The Russians are bombing straight through every district. And I think their tactic is either you surrender, or we will wipe you off the face of the earth.

ELLIOT: So how had you been able to survive for a month in a basement while your city was under attack?

BESKROVNA: We would haul water from a well about three miles away. We would cook on open fires. Under very heavy shelling, we stayed in the most inner part of the basement just hoping to survive. And you have to understand that just in our basement, we had 36 people, including 12 kids. We did not shower. We used wet wipes when we had them, and then we just stopped. I can't describe it. We were using all the food supplies we had in the cupboard and just things you never think of as strategic supply that turned out to be lifesaving.

ELLIOT: Now, during all this time that you were in the basement, were you getting information about the broader war throughout the country?

BESKROVNA: At first, we had everything. We had electricity. We had water. You know, it felt like I could work from home. And then gradually, they bombed the antennas. The Wi-Fi went down. Then the cellphone service went down. Then the lights went out. We had zero information from the outside world. It was all rumors.

ELLIOT: What prompted the decision - now it's time for us to leave? Now we think we can safely get out of here?

BESKROVNA: Well, there were two time periods when I was ready to leave. The first one was the first three days, and I was actively lobbying for it, but I didn't have a vehicle of my own. Most people had trouble, like, grasping reality, and they felt like we just have to wait it out. We don't want to leave our apartments we worked our entire lives to pay off. And then, when the active shelling started, it was impossible not only to leave, but to leave the basement, you know, for days. Once the rumors spread that it was possible to leave, that's when we decided to go. And the reason being, it's impossible to stay. If you want to survive, you leave.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELLIOT: So this Wednesday, Alina Beskrovna crowded into a car with five others. The car had been damaged in the shelling, but it still had fuel. Amid the sounds of explosions and gunfire, Beskrovna says they joined hundreds of other cars crawling out of Mariupol. Along the way, they passed through 16 Russian checkpoints. She feared they could be turned back or detained. But after an entire day on the road, they finally made it to the city of Zaporizhia.

BESKROVNA: When we were in the basement, it did not feel real because we had relative stability. But as you're moving away from your entire life, you don't understand how it's even possible. It feels like complete emptiness.

ELLIOT: So you don't imagine that you'll ever be able to return to Mariupol?

BESKROVNA: I don't see how because the city is nonexistent. Over 90% of the buildings have been completely destroyed, and the rest have been at least targeted and hit.

ELLIOT: What are you going to do now?

BESKROVNA: We are hoping to go further west, settle probably in Lviv, stay very close to the border and see if we can find refuge elsewhere in the world just because my mom and I, we lost everything. We have nothing to go back to.

ELLIOT: Alina Beskrovna, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, and Godspeed.

BESKROVNA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.