People People & Places Places

More Letters from Ukraine

BOBBY ARDOIN
Contributing Writer

(Editor’s note: Marina Suponina Calland a Ukrainian native who spent a year in Opelousas as a foreign exchange student living with Opelousas attorney Bruce Gaudin and wife Bernadette, is a European journalist who went to Poland last month with husband Tim Calland and successfully rescued her mother who fled Kyiv, Ukraine by train. The Calland’s and Marina’s mother are now safely in London. St. Landry Now published a series of letters from Suponina to the Gaudin’s last week, describing the situation in Poland and the effort to rescue her mother. Here is another letter that Suponina-Calland sent recently to the Gaudin’s which is being reprinted now with Suponina’s permission. Bobby Ardoin, SLN editorial consultant and contributing writer).


February 25, 2022

Oh where do I start? 

Mum was supposed to fly in today. But of course yesterday Putin invaded and all the airports are shut. 

So she is in Kyiv. With her friend. And with me on the phone. 

The situation there is pretty bad. Some rockets are flying and hitting apartment blocks. Planes get shot down, hitting apartment blocks. Air raids and reportedly Russian armoured vehicles on the streets of North Kyiv. 

She spend last night in a Kyiv Underground station. Uncomfortable, but safe enough. 

She is not sure if she would bother today. 

I am desperately trying to get her out, but not sure how. I bought 3 tickets to different trains to Poland. On three different days. Hedging my bets. 

She doesn’t have a car and can’t drive and even if she could she wouldn’t go alone. There is not enough petrol, the queues at the border are 15 hours long. People abandon their fuel-less cars and walk to the borders. I just cannot see her doing that. 

But I am still worried about her train journey. Will the trains run. What if the rail track is damaged? Delays, etc. 

I am hoping she could take the train on Wed 2 March and get to Warsaw on the 3rd. I will meet her there and take her to London with me.  I think I will go crazy with all of this. 

Poland has been AMAZING – from making it easier to the Ukrainian to cross the border, to making them feel welcomed. Even my Polish builder offered my mum to stay with his family in his family home. This is the neighbour you want to have !!!

You wonder why Putin does this? My theory is when you have all the money you can possibly want and every whim is catered for, you want absolute power. 

H is pretty much the most powerful man in the world right now. Sorry Mr Biden. Yes, the US economy is huge, the army is better, and better equipped, and there are enough nukes in the arsenal, but the US President can’t just invade a country on a whim. There are (thankfully) procedures to adhere to and votes to answer to. As well as the Congress. 

All Putin’s yes-men are busy trying to please him. I am sure he treats them like dirt and I am sure some of them hate him. But there is not enough momentum to topple him. And they know he can ruin them. 

So now he has everything at home – money, power, – he is ready to spread his wings. He did a little try with Georgia in 2008 and got a slap on the wrist. He then took chunks of Ukraine and got two slaps on the wrists. Syria – no one cared. He is now action in “bring it ON” way. You get involved in this – I will make you pay. 

What are the US and Europe gonna do? They should have been either fighting him with armies when he felt weak, or they should have focused on cutting Russia off Western gravy train: from the financial markets to oil and gas. Europe especially had to decarbonise and fast. And London and Cyprus should stop laundering Russian money. 

But we are where we are. 

While all of this is happening – China is watching. It’s a test drive of whet the West is ready to do if China takes Taiwan. 

And in the middle of all of this is my country and my people and my mum. 

They are getting bombed, their economy is collapsing, their lives and country as they knew them are crumbling. Putin doesn’t give a voice to the Ukrainians – we are not a country or people to him – untermench – and the NATO was always going to sacrifice Ukraine to Russia. And all of us feel helpless, voiceless and very, very angry. 

Aside from my mum’s safety, my heart bleeds for my country. What looked so promising 20 years ago is now going to disappear in one man’s, one country’s ambition to rule the world and feel important. 

Sorry, a bit of a speech. I am so, so so upset and angry about this. I can’t even tell you. 

Please think of us and pray for my mm’s safe passage. It’s going to be a long week. 

Sending you lots of love, Marina xx

Back to letter list


February 28, 2022

Mum is OK. She is on a train to Lviv in Western Ukraine as we speak. 

It’s been horrific few days for all of us. Mum has been sheltering in the London Underground for 3/4 nights and one full day. It was safe, but cold and uncomfortable and very stressful. 

The city has been under constant threat from Russian troops and even though Ukrainian soldiers have been fighting courageously and bravely, a shot down Russian plane hit a residential house, a rocket hit a residential tower. 

My school friend’s flat was hit. They survived, but her oldest son and herself have broken legs. And no home to come back to. 
Because a lot of war damage is filmed and posted on social media, I saw my school friend being carried to the ambulance and her husband trying to find their youngest sone, who was taken to safety by the emergency services. It was surreal. 

Attacks like these are not common (yet) – though look at Kharkiv, but it was scary for her. 

In the underground trains were parked at the platforms and my mum and her neighbour and friend have been sleeping there. It was cold, uncomfortable. There was a curfew from Sat pm till Mon morning, so they couldn’t get out. Some people didn’t bring food, so mum and her friend shared theirs. 

There were toilets, cold and boiled water available, electricity and most importantly – mobile connection! Thank goodness all Ukrainian underground stations have mobile connection and wifi, so mum and I could be in touch. But also everyone could follow what was going on outside. 

Aside from the WifI it was like the WWII. The irony is of course that now Russia was bombing Kyiv! 

I can’t tell you how much it hurts. How my heart aches for my country and for my countrymen and women. How scared I was, but also how damn angry I was and am and will be about this.

My homeland that never attacked anyone. My people running and fearing for their lives. My mother, 66 yo having to sleep in cold and drafty underground trains sheltering from RUSSIAN bombs! 

She took my grandmother’s old wool shawl. It’s old and moth eaten, but very warm. She said that it was like having her mum cuddling her. 

They made quiet a team on that train. Sharing food, stories and news and keeping each other upbeat. Volunteers brought food twice. This morning, after another pretty much sleepless night, mum tasted some hot porridge, fresh fruit and hot tea. All of it brought by volunteers. She said this was the best tasting porridge she ever had in her life. 

As she got home this morning, I spoke to her a few times and then I checked the news again. I am GLUED to the news: BBC, CNN, The Guardian and Hromadske – a Ukrainian news outlet. Plus various people on Twitter. I slept pretty badly all these days. I am anxious and very stressed. I manage to sleep throughout most of the night, but the moment I stir I can’t go to sleep. 

All my thoughts, my heart are with my mother, my country and my people. 

The news today were not good. Kharkiv under fire. A column of tanks approaching Kyiv. Leaving on Wed to Warsaw as planned felt just too late.

Yesterday, all the news outlets reported Kyov being surrounded and civilian escape roots cut off. I felt sick. It was a fake. Russians hacked into Kyiv mayor’s telegram account and put those news there. I felt physically sick. 

Today I couldn’t risk it. 

So I bought mum two tickets to two different trains to Lviv and called my cousin who lives there. She said my mum was very welcomed to stay with them. This is a lifesaver. 

She had a shower, picked up her packed bags, said a hurried goodbye to her friend and neighbour, leaving her some cash and the keys to her flat, locked the door and left. And who knows when she will return. 

I broke down and cried. Because it is just so unfair, it is just so awful and cruel. 

The Kyiv Central train station was a mess. Everyone running. The train service put up loads of trains taking people west. They don’t run on time, no one checks the tickets, the train attendants haven’t seen their family members for days – but they run and take people to safely. 

In the last 4 days I bought 6 train tickets to mum. She is only going to use, hopefully two. I am not going to claim my money back. This is my donation to the brave people on the Ukrainian railways. They need every penny. 

So she is on her way. Stage one of many of her journey to safety. She’s been very brave. 

Gave her a strained back and she is dying, give her a war and she is totally together. 

No one, including me, expected the Ukrainians to fight so fiercely and bravely. 

Putin is a war criminal. So bad even Trump, who praised him as genius just a few days back can’t seen to be all loving about him, though I am shocked to realise some Republican politicians still sing his praises and their followers chant his name. 

They are abhorrent. 

I am glad the world woke up and is doing something about it. From arming Ukraine to slapping sanctions on Russia. 

There should be more sanctions, catastrophic sanctions, sanctions so bad Russians are taking to the streets and Putin’s cronies thinking they’d be better without him. 

Some may say, but Russian people are not the ones who are causing that. And you know what, I do not care. My people definitely haven’t caused any of this and yet their homes are being bombed, they sleep in shelters, there is no petrol, shops are closed, there is a shortage of food and they have to run for safely. I don’t care if Russian citizens feel some pain. Even if they feel a lot of pain. I don’t care what they protest against – the war or the collapse of the rouble. But they must topple that man. And in Belarus too. My country has suffered enough. 

My mum is lucky. She has somewhere to go and live. 

What about others?!! 

This has to stop. 

That is if he doesn’t nuke us all. Hope someone has a plan for if/when that happens. 

Lots of love, Marina


March 4, 2022

She was travelling from Lviv in Western Ukraine to Poland, while we were waiting for her on the border in Przemysl, one of the biggest Ukrainian refugee enty points in Eastern Europe. 

The train journey that takes 2.5hrs in peace time took 22. Standing room only.

We had to check every hour the arriving trains, as there was no schedule. Just “another train from Ukraine”. Mum’s phone battery went flat in the last 3hrs of the journey. Which made it even more fun and resulted in me in tears searching for her around the station only to realise that she was on the next train.

Meanwhile she was on a train with people sitting and lying in the Isles and everywhere. Kids on laps, babes in arms, disabled relatives, cats and dogs.

We all were so exhausted we had a nap in the car at motorway services on our way back to Krakow.

Polish and Ukrainian volunteers were amazing. The trains, were stopping in various Ukrainian towns for hours on end. The volunteers fed and watered everyone. 

The Polish welcome has been simply incredible. I was moved to tears in many an occasion during our 20 hours wait for mum in Przemysl. 

I am a big fan of Ukrzaliznytsia these days too. (Ukrainian rail) The trains just kept evacuating people. Not always very well and definitely not on time, but they brought them to safety, turned back and went into the war zones again. Not to mention all the network workers in signals, dispatches, etc.

Real heroes.

But the situation in Ukraine is a catastrophy.

While I and everyone rejoice for my mum’s safety, I want to remember people:

– who chose not to go

– who can’t go

– who have disabled relatives

Remember also:

– our service men and women who fight bravely

-doctors and nurses

-steelmakers, breadmakers, water mains, electricity workers, etc. 

– journalists who cover this horrific war

-President Zelensky who is a brave man. 

Please continue to pressure your politicians for support for Ukraine. Military, financial and more sanctions on Russia please. 

Lots of love, Marina 


March 12, 2022

Dear Bruce and Bernie, 

I wrote a rather emotional story for an Irish online publication about mum, Ukraine and well, me. 

Took three, attempts. Couldn’t find the words. 

Still reads a bit rough. But that’s how I feel. https://www.theheyday.ie/guest-articles/war-torn-ukrainian-woman-story

Marina


March 14, 2022

Dear Bruce,

Bridgette posted a link to St Landry Now with my correspondence. Than you very much for organising this. It is very important that Ukraine is not forgotten. 

I just applied for my mum’s special UK visa for Ukrainian refugees. It’s not an asylum one, it’s a three-year visa which grants her lots of things: from free medical care – like we all enjoy here – to the right to work – not that she would, right to open a bank account, etc. Pretty much everything bar voting. 

It’s a special arrangement for Ukrainian refugees who have family here. It’s pretty generous, but not as generous as the rest of the EU. In the EU one doesn’t need to have a family to qualify. All Ukrainians whether with family connections or not can have all of the above rights. 

Mum is rather lucky she has us. She has a place to live and we have funds to support her. She arrived in the UK with two changes of clothes, some pyjamas, one set of shoes and basic toiletries. Plus all the documents, some money, her computer and her phone. That’s all. 

It was important to have her luggage manageable, otherwise her train journeys would have been a lot harder. We will of course fix her with what she needs, but she is very sad that all her things are left in Kyiv. 

It was her birthday yesterday and Facebook showed me her birthday pics from last year, back then she was celebrating with the neighbour and friend whom she was hiding in the Kyiv Underground with just a few days ago. It brakes my heart seeing our flat in Kyiv, lovingly decorated by dad and her, with all their furniture and photos. We keep telling each other that her safety is the most important thing, but it still hurts. 

We remind ourselves that her friends are now in inhumane conditions in Mariupol. She is doing fine, compared to that.

But we can’t quite accept it, that she may not be able to see it all ever again. Or that it is all destroyed. My photos from my time in Louisiana are all there. 

Most of my family photos are there too. 

This is not right! 

Otherwise we are ok. 

The house is moving along. Tim just had Covid – must have caught it in Poland – Przemysl station was a proper Covid-super-spreader. 

No one else caught it off him so far. Now that my mum is with us and we are a bit short on space, I shared the bedroom with Tim all along. So far so good. I had covid of course, and am triple jabbed. So fingers crossed I have some immunity. 

He felt ok. For covid. Rough, in bed for 5 days, but fine. 

My mother-in-law fell and broke her rib. Tim also managed to damage his knee and finds it hard to walk. Being a man – he is not in a hurry to to see anyone about it, which just drives me absolutely crazy. 

We’d do with a bit of good news, to be honest. 

Lots of love, Marina x


March 15, 2022

Dear Bruce and Bernie,

I didn’t realise that your brother knew Brent. 

Every lost life is of course a tragedy. But lives of people who tell the truth – has an additional special meaning. 

On the other hand, those who spread lies under the guise of journalism, hopefully will have a particularly awful place in Hell. Next to Goebbels. That is if there is an ultimate punishment. Their words poison minds. 

I am touched that President Zelenskyy wrote a personal letter to Brent’s family, finding time among the horror he and our people face at home. 

I was very saddened to hear Brent was killed. At the CIJ we sadly have a long list of good journalists who paid with their lives while telling the stories of war. At the same time, propagandists like Russia Today’s Simonyan and Russia-1 Solovyov get rich on spewing lies. 

Here is an interesting Twitter thread on Simonyan’s palace in Sochi (In English, you should be able to read even without being on Twitter) and an article on Solovyov’s villas in Lake Como

This is far from over. Sadly many more lives will be lost. 

Mariupol deputy mayor estimates that around 20,000 civilians died in Mariupol after the siege started. Either from bombs or from thirst and starvation.  

A handful managed to escape from Mariupol. I read an account from one of them. When stopped at Russian checkpoints on the way out, some Russian soldiers were surprised they managed to escape. And referred to parts of Mariupol their army was bombing as “Pentagon”. 

In their crazy minds they are fighting the Pentagon while in fact killing the civilians. We are more connected than you think. 

Lots of love, Marina 


March 21, 2022

Dear Bruce and Bernie,

I’ve been meaning to write to you about Mariupol and couldn’t find the strength. 

Watching the horrors of war in Ukraine, I thought my chalice of grief has reached its capacity. I thought the death and suffering my people were going through has done its damage and whatever was happening on top of it would just overflow. The pain would stay the same.

And then they bombed the theatre in Mariupol. 

Mariupol is a city of 400,000. It’s not too big in terms of territory, but pretty densely populated with most people living in high rises. It’s not too pretty either. It’s a middle class Ukrainian city, on the shores of the Sea of Azov, with two huge metallurgical plants giving it life, financial stability as well as polluting its air and sea. It has a bit of an old town – the area settled by the Greeks, who were thrown out of the Crimea by the Turks and were allowed to settle in Mariupol by the Russian Empress Catherine II in 1778. Two hundred years before I was born. It’s pretty sleepy, fairly insignificant industrial city. 

And yet, it became the main battleground for the Russians. In 2014 Mariupol remained Ukrainian by a whisker. This time, they were not going to let it happen. 

Mariupol’s two main streets criss-cross the city North to South and East to West. The East to West one – which was used to be called Lenin avenue and after 2014 was re-named into Mir (Peace) avenue is the prettiest of the two. In the middle of it, right in the heart of the city stood the Theatre. 

Most Mariupol residents used to go for a walk “by the Theatre” almost every weekend: parents took their kids, young couples met up there, the older generation gathered on its many benches, men playing chess and checkers, women chatting, often breaking into an impromptu song.

My dad used to joke that he was fed up of the walks “by the theatre”. Aside from the seafront and the city’s central park, there were not too many other places to go to. So as a child, I went there a lot. I roller skated on the alleys of the little park, surrounding it, fed the pigeons, I ran around its big fountain. My dad took me to see my first theatre production there. And my first opera. As a teen I met my friends there, sat on the shady benches looking at boys, chatting, enjoying being in the heart of the city. 

I know every path, every pine tree, every bench there. It is the very centre of Mariupol life. 

Last week Russian war criminals, having bombed, burned and starved most of the city dropped a bomb onto the Mariupol Theatre of RUSSIAN Drama, ruining most of it. Over 1000 people were sheltering there. Those whose homes were ruined, those who had nowhere else to go. I thought they were all murdered.  

When I heard about it first and saw the photos, my heart and my soul, which I thought were hardened by all the atrocities, death and suffering I already saw were turned inside out. I wept for my people, I wept for my city, I wept for my youth, I wept for the city my parents called home. 

The Russians hit me in my heart. 

Luckily most of the people sheltering there survived. They stayed in the theatre’s bomb shelter, under the theatre. Built, like the theatre itself by the Soviets to protect us from the… NATO. Now it saved the people from the Russian bomb. 

But their ordeal, like the ordeal of the people who sheltered in the Neptune Swimming pull, which was also bombed that day, was not over. 

The shelling continued, so digging out the survivors became almost impossible. And even when they were freed. What was to become of them in a city with no food, water or electricity? 

The suffering of Mariupol became the symbol of this war. Needless, pointless, cruel killing of a peaceful Russian speaking city. 90% of its buildings destroyed. Who knows how many people killed. 

Two photo and video journalists from the Associated Press were inside Mariupol until recently. They covered the atrocities there for the international community to see. Last week they too had to flee. 

“If they catch you, they will get you on camera and they will make you say that everything you filmed is a lie,” he said. “All your efforts and everything you have done in Mariupol will be in vain.”

The officer, who had once begged us to show the world his dying city, now pleaded with us to go. He nudged us toward the thousands of battered cars preparing to leave Mariupol.

It was March 15. We had no idea if we would make it out alive.”

Their story is a chilling, almost impossible read. But it must, absolutely must be read. My city will fall. It is inevitable. The cost is immense. And now, there is no one from the media to bear witness to it all. We will not have a “birds eye view” journalists give us. We will see individual tragedies, shared by thousands of people. Many will remain untold.


Every couple of days, mum sends messaged to all the friends whom she has in Mariupol to see if they made it out of there. 

Yesterday she sent 38. Only 4 people replied. 
Four people and some of their families are alive. We still don’t know about the rest. 

My uncle drove out of Mariupol last Friday taking his daughter-in-law and 2 young grandsons with him, but leaving his son. It must be said, that my uncle is an a-hole. He loves Putin and and was “waiting for him with open arms”. Mum thought that the horrific experience he went through may have changed his mind, but no. He still talks about the “Nazis”, he waved at the Russians at every Russian checkpoint – making his daughter-in-law sick with disgust. When he called my mum he jokingly asked if London was bombed yet. 

His daughter, my cousin, who lives in Lviv, the nest of the Ukrainian Nazis (according to the Russian propaganda) doesn’t want to talk to him. He’s been there many times. Seeing with his own eyes that the Russian narrative wasn’t true. And yet, he continues to yap on about the Nazis. 

My mum was so upset by it all, she told him to get lost. His daughter-in-law left for Lviv on a train at the first opportunity. He is now alone in Zaporizhzhya. No one wants him, including his daughter, because he upset and outraged everyone. 

He had first-hand access to information and saw how it was in Ukraine himself and yet he completely bought into the Russian superiority – Ukrainians are nothing narrative. What hope do we have with people from Irkutsk? The vaccine refusal taught us a valuable lesson, it is not about the lack of information. People sadly choose what they want to believe and then feast on the info that confirms their existing beliefs. It makes the war in Ukraine even more cruel, with the majourity of Russians waving flags and delighting in our suffering. 

As always, I ask you to keep sharing the story of Ukraine, pressing your politicians to do better: harder sanctions, more military help for Ukraine. The sanctions need to be so hard, that Russian can’t bear it and beg to lift them, in exchange for leaving Ukrainian territories. But most of the sanctions must stay. The world can’t go back to business as usual with Russia and Belarus. They are now the enemy and like the Soviet Union need to be contained till regime change. 

I also ask you to think of the people who are still in Mariupol. And especially for my mum’s most vulnerable friends. 

Please think of my mother’s friend Galya. She is 84 with a heart condition. She couldn’t get down the stairs on a good day. She needs 15 types of medication each day to stay alive. What has happened to her, when the fittest struggle? 

Please think of my mum’s friend Vera, 76, alone in a private home in an area now held by the Russian troops. Her only son died a few years ago. She is alone, afraid. She has no means of leaving the city and nowhere to go.  Many Ukrainians believe we will win. I am not so sure. Or if we do, it won’t be too soon. But I too, still hope. 

With lots of love, Marina