“We spent around two weeks hiding in the cellar. There was no water, heating or light. Outside, neo-Nazis were walking the streets, telling us this is all for our independence referendum in 2014 and we’ll all die here – the Russians will come and slaughter us all,” Tatyana recalled, of the early days of the battle for Mariupol.
While the Russian military is often blamed for the destruction of the city, Tatyana sees things rather differently.
By “neo-Nazis”, she had been referring to the Ukrainian soldiers and paramilitaries that Russian government officials consider far-right fighters.
“Since February 24, the Ukrainian side was bombarding the whole city. Until March 16, we didn’t see any Russian forces, only the Ukrainians patrolling our streets and setting up checkpoints, blocking the road. So even if you just went out to see your grandma, you couldn’t come back the same way because the whole road would be blocked.
“On March 16, our neighbour shouted to us that the Ukrainian positions had been broken through. We didn’t hesitate: my husband got in the car and we drove off.”
Tatyana, who asked Al Jazeera to withhold her full name and other personal details, now lives in Moscow with distant relatives and is searching for a job.
However, less attention is paid to the refugees heading east, to Russia.
According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations, more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the Russian Federation since February. And many have a very different perspective on the conflict to those interviewed by Western media.
The first wave arrived just before the war began on February 24, when the pro-Russian rebels of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) in eastern Ukraine announced the evacuation of all women and children from the area before an imminent Ukrainian attack. Men of fighting age were kept behind for mobilisation.