Anastasiia Gondul says she hasn’t heard from her husband since the Russians captured him – and she is asking the international community “not to forget” the heroic defense of Mariupol.
The wife of a defender at Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol has described how she bought clothes for her husband after hearing he had left the plant but still hadn’t heard from him – raising fears he was in the territories occupied by Russia could disappear.
Anastasiia Gondul, 45, said her husband Artem, 37, last texted her a month ago, telling her he was recovering from a serious injury but had been captured by the Russians and headed to the unrecognized People’s Republic Donetsk (DPR), part of Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine.
Ms. Gondul believes the prisoner exchange was halted as she had no information on when her husband would return.
The steel mill was the last bastion of the Ukrainian resistance in the southern port city, and hundreds of civilians and soldiers were evacuated and taken to Russian-controlled areas.
Russia has since cleared the facility and started returning some bodies to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, while DNA tests are being conducted to identify the remains of others, Maksym Zhorin, a military commander and former leader of Ukraine’s Azov regiment, said last week . It is unclear how many have been returned and how many remain to be retrieved.
Mr. Gondul suffered a serious pelvic injury when a mine exploded during fighting at the steelworks
“When I heard information about how he left Azovstal on May 16, I believed he would return home,” Ms. Gondul said. “I prepared a suitcase with vitamins because he has not seen the sun for three months. I bought him new clothes and waited, I thought he would come back home, but that still hasn’t happened.”
Ms. Gondul, who previously told I She fled shortly after the outbreak of war after her husband begged her to take their seven-year-old to safety, and took anti-depressants to endure the torturous wait.
She said: “When I wake up in the morning I cry, when I go to bed I cry, I text him twice a day on Telegram, I tell him about life, I hope every time that maybe he will answer and talk to you with me…
“Every day, at the end of the day, I write to him about my day, at the end I write, ‘I love you from earth to sky.'”
Ms. Gondul, who worked in a medical aesthetics center, has now relocated to Kryvyi Rih, the largest city in central Ukraine. She has joined the Union of Wives and Mothers of the Azov Steel Soldiers, through which relatives of the Mariupol defenders are in touch with the Ukrainian security services to follow all developments.
The group aims to keep the memory of the defenders alive by describing their lives and heroic efforts at the industrial complex that has become a symbol of Ukraine’s national resistance to Russia.
“I remember the last message from him and my husband asked me to fight for him and not give up. For this reason, I and the wives and relatives of other soldiers have created social media pages where the stories of their Azovstal defenders are shared,” she said. “Many stories are hard. I ask the world not to forget Azovstal.”
She added that the day her husband returns will be “the happiest moment of my life.”