Fearing rape and death, this woman carried evidence out of Ukraine

·3 min read
A man walks past a destroyed apartment building in Mariupol on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.  (Alexei Alexandrov/The Associated Press - image credit)
A man walks past a destroyed apartment building in Mariupol on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. (Alexei Alexandrov/The Associated Press - image credit)

She risked her life, was strip-searched by Russian soldiers and constantly feared being pulled aside and raped. And still, Alina Beskrovna says she believes she had it "very easy" getting out of Ukraine.

Beskrovna and her mother were among the hundreds, maybe even thousands of people from Mariupol, who took shelter in underground bunkers when the Russians started bombarding the strategic southern port city at the end of February.

She says they wanted to get out of the city from day one, but immediately realized that was not an option.

"The city was quickly besieged and it was very dangerous to leave, even if you had a vehicle full of fuel, just because there was active fighting all over," she told CBC's Suhana Meharchand.

Instead, they took shelter in a basement, living underground for more than a month, before — on March 23, taking the chance against missiles and bombs — trying to escape.

WATCH | Risking their lives to escape Ukraine:

Beskrovna would get out with evidence of Russia's relentless bombardment.

She describes a journey marked by unusual luck — despite its many terrors.

"We went through 16 Russian checkpoints where we were, you know, stripped naked and searched. And our pictures, our contacts, were checked, the belongings were checked," she said.

And every time she was searched, she says, she feared the soldiers would discover what she had in her backpack.

"I had two pieces of missiles in my backpack that I really was hoping to get out as some factual evidence," she said.

"And I kept thinking, what if they check my backpack? What are they going to do to me?"

She says the soldiers, in fact, seemed more concerned with the men — checking them for tattoos or anything that identified them as soldiers.

WATCH | The fear of being searched at checkpoints:

But Beskrovna says, for her and the other women, the checkpoints were about "hoping to not be shot point-blank, not be taken to the side and raped."

She said she was forced to smile and to speak in Russian to the soldiers, who "behaved like they owned Ukraine [and] openly mocked us."

All along, she worried the two fragments in her bag would be discovered.

One, she said, is "supposed to break off into thousands of tiny, very sharp metal pieces and kill everyone," in the area where it is dropped.

She says she took the second, larger piece of twisted metal from a missile which hit her house on March 8.

"It also has some markings on the factory in Russia where it was produced," she said, "so I decided to take it with me."

They are jagged reminders of what Beskrovna and her mother survived, and, she says, of her neighbours who weren't as lucky.

"When I look at those pieces, I think of the civilians who were just murdered in Mariupol. The estimates are around 22- to 25,000 civilians over a two-month period in my hometown. I can't comprehend it," she said.

Beskrovna and her mother are now safe in Copenhagen, with hopes of coming to Canada. Beskrovna's father was in his apartment in Mariupol the last time she was able to reach him.

They last spoke on Feb. 26, two days after the invasion started, but she has not heard from him since.

WATCH | See the shrapnel Beskrovna carried out of Mariupol:

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