Mariupol survivor rebuilds life in shattered city

STORY: (Tatiana Bushlanova, Mariupol resident) "You get up in the morning and you cry. You cry in the evening. I don't know where to go at all. I am not alone, imagine, everything is destroyed, everything is broken.”

“Where should people go now? Here, they are sitting there with small kids, with little ones.”

Tatiana Bushlanova didn't even flinch when shells exploded nearby.

She spoke to Reuters in front of the shattered remains of her home in Mariupol in May 2022, nearly three months after Russia launched a full-scale invasion on Ukraine.

Date: May 2, 2022

“I've got nowhere to go. I would love to leave. If they provided me with somewhere to live, I would leave today. But like this - where to go?”

A year on from the start of the war, Tatiana is still in Mariupol.

She says the death and destruction have hardened people's hearts.

"People lost everything. Everyone's kind of strange now, angry. I don't know - I don't see a lot of kindness out there."

Before the war, Mariupol was the biggest Ukrainian city on the Sea of Azov and home to more than 400,000 people.

Its main port served the industries and agriculture of all eastern Ukraine.

That made the city a big strategic prize for Russia, when it launched what Moscow called its "special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

After a siege lasting nearly three months, Russian forces captured Mariupol in May.

By then, the city was reduced to a wasteland littered with bodies.

Ukraine says tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Tatiana says her neighbor was killed when debris crushed him after an explosion. Another neighbor's son was killed by a shell, and another had her hand torn off in an explosion.

"I know when the people here were killed, until they were reburied in August they were buried in the courtyard here the whole time. It was kind of creepy. But then I thought - what's there to be afraid of? Nothing already."

Tatiana’s apartment block was destroyed during the siege.

But she and her husband, Nikolai, were reluctant to abandon their home of 20 years even though there was no electricity, gas or running water.

"We didn't want to leave, but we did want to eat. We went out, things were flying around all over the place. It was terrifying to go outside and cook something. We ran out, cooked something. One of the girls was caught by shrapnel, a shard of a shell."

Tatiana and Nikolai now live in an apartment that belonged to a couple who were killed by Russian shelling.

"Come through! Should I put the light on? Here's one small room, and another small room. Everything is fine. You can live here. For a while."

"(JOURNALIST SAYING IT'S CLEAR THEY TRIED TO RENOVATE THE PLACE) Yes, of course. Not bad, too. But it's not ours. (Do you feel that?) Of course. It's a house, not a home."

Tatiana says life in Mariupol was starting to look up a bit with the city's Russian-installed authorities building new apartment blocks.

Their old apartment block was demolished, but getting compensation is a drawn-out process.

"The excavator stood here and just took pieces off bit by bit. (Reporter: How did you feel then?) I cried. It was so sad. Such a pity; we lived there for 20 years. We used to live in a 14-story building, and it started leaning, so we bought here. And we were unlucky again here."

Tatiana and Nikolai live on her modest salary as a cleaner and on their two pensions of 10,000 roubles a month each or just over $130 dollars.

She says it’s tough given how expensive food has become.

With Mariupol still under Russian control, and no sign of an end to the conflict, Tatiana says they will stay in the city that has been their home for decades.

“Of course we're going to live in Mariupol. We're not going anywhere. (ASKED WHY NOT) Because, all the same, no one will give us somewhere to live. And, forgive me, but where else will we live out our final years? No, we'll live them out here."

“There needs to be peace. Peace. The most important thing is peace."