17-year-old girl from Mariupol narrowly avoids brutal interrogation

Courtesy of Maria Vdovichenko
Maria Vdovichenko in her family’s car outside a “screening detention center”

LVIV, Ukraine — Maria Vdovichenko narrowly avoided a brutal interrogation by the Russian military at a “screening detention center” as the 17-year-old and her family fled from Mariupol, which is still under Russia attack.

Harshly questioned and beaten, her father lost his sight in one eye.

“I couldn’t stop shaking with fear,” said Vdovichenko, who is currently living outside Ukraine, during an online interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Vdovichenko left Mariupol one month ago with her father, mother and younger sister. Traveling in a car driven by her father, they went to Yalta, a small town under the control of pro-Russian armed groups that has the same name as a famous resort in Crimea.

As they were about to leave Yalta, their car was stopped and directed by pro-Russian armed forces to a place where nearly 500 vehicles were lined up in front of a simple barracks building.

Vdovichenko’s family spent two full days in the car, not allowed to get out. When their turn came, only Vdovichenko and her father were taken to the detention center. Only people aged 14 or older were being interrogated, so her sister and sickly mother were not questioned.

While being taken to an interrogation room, Vdovichenko overheard a soldier saying “I shot and killed more than 10 people who couldn’t pass the screening process.”

Vdovichenko saw a truck outside the building with many people on it. In hindsight, she thinks they may have failed the screening.

“I don’t know where they were taken. There were too many people to count in the back of the truck,” she said.

In the interrogation room, Vdovichenko and her father’s passports and cell phone data were examined. Their fingerprints were also taken.

“I was panicking and tried very hard to suppress my desire to scream,” Vdovichenko said. She could not stop shaking, so the soldiers had to retake her fingerprints several times.

They showed no particular interest in Vdovichenko, saying that she had “too much of a baby face.” She was allowed to return to her family’s car after about 20 minutes.

“If they liked me, I’d have been sexually assaulted and tortured to death,” Vdovichenko said.

Her father was subjected to relentless, harsh interrogation. To determine whether he was hostile, he was repeatedly asked things like what he thought of Russia, what activities he was involved in, and what he thought about the war.

When it was discovered that he had erased the data on his cell phone, soldiers yelled at him, “Why is there no data?” and hit him hard on the back of the head. When he regained consciousness, he had been left on a street and the blow to his head had cost him the sight in one of his eyes.

The family then fled to Berdyansk, west of Yalta, bearing documents that showed they had passed the screening process. After that, they went to Zaporizhzhia in the south.

Vdovichenko said: “My father kept the car going even though his vision was extremely bad. Thanks to him, our whole family survived.”

For safety reasons, Vdovichenko did not reveal her current location.

“Russia destroyed the city where I was born, raised, and experienced my first love,” she said. “It’s my mission to tell people about this despicable act,” she said.