Ukraine survivor: My young children asked me if it hurts to die

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A 28-year-old mother recounts her harrowing ordeal in Mariupol, where she was surrounded by death and destruction.

Kyiv, Ukraine – Halyna, a 28-year-old woman from the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, survived three weeks of Russian shelling with her husband, two young children and dog.

She is currently in Europe, but Al Jazeera is withholding her last name and any other details which could identify her, because her relatives are still in the Russia-occupied city.

Here is her story, in her words:

“We woke because the explosions were so powerful. The windows began shattering and we understood right away that the war has began.

“On the first day, the shelling was far from us, on the city’s other side, but every day, it kept getting closer and in the end, it was next to our apartment building. The shrapnel was flying around and we simply couldn’t leave our basement bomb shelter.

“We were in shock, my arms, feet were shaking, I said, ‘Perhaps it’s not true.’ But then we turned the TV on and understood it was, and that the real, full-scale war had begun.

“The children were scared from day one, of course, scared of this constant bombardment. But when things got real tense, they just convulsed with hysteria in those basements. And they asked questions: ‘Does it hurt to die?’

“My daughter is eight, my son is six.

“Our dog is a small chihuahua. She entertained the kids, distracted them from it all. She played with them, it helped a lot.

“We bought groceries and there was some food in the freezer, some meat, ravioli. That was the only time we went grocery shopping during the war.

“Later, when there was no electricity, no food, we grown-ups went hungry, and the children ate once a day and drank a glass of water between them. We didn’t have normal water. The water was from the river, my husband got it under bullets.

“They switched off the central heating, and it would get to minus 10 Celsius outside. One day, the shelling broke our windows, and the nightmare began.