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Auntie Soup—a breadwinner for the children of “Azovstal”

Illustration: #OleksandrShatokhin


Russian troops could not take control over the area of the Azovstal iron and steel factory in Mariupol until the end. While Ukrainian defenders stood up for the plant, hundreds of civilians hid from enemy fire in its bomb shelters. Many people managed to evacuate from there only after two months of blockade. During this time, people survived without drinking water, electricity and sufficient food.

35-year-old Natalia and her husband ran to one of the many basements of Azovstal at the beginning of March. They used to work at this plant before the great war. About 20 people had already gathered in the same bomb shelter; later the number increased to 40. Eight of them were children, the youngest girl was only 2,5 years old.

They had to eat only combat rations and sweets, which were shared with them by the Ukrainian military, and produce that someone could grab from home. This was not enough for such a large number of people. Children drew what they would like to taste: pizza, cake, French fries. Although Natalia never wanted to cook in peacetime, these pictures broke her heart, so she decided to cook food for everyone. One little boy couldn't pronounce her name, so Natalia suggested: "Call me Auntie Soup." 

Although the food Natalia prepared had little to do with real soup, she could only use two cans of combat ration stew in 30 litres of water. Sometimes, one such portion had to be divided among five people. Natalia also invented other recipes: hrechanyky from canned food and a handful of buckwheat, rice with sugar, sweets made from sour milk, deruny made from four potatoes. When Auntie Soup made pancakes and added some jam in the middle, the children said these were cakes. Once, Natalia even made a "pizza": she spooned canned food on pita bread, and someone found a piece of cheese to add. As the woman says, the children were delighted. 

They ate in the bomb shelter once a day at lunch. They tried to sleep longer so as not to think about hunger constantly. When it became unbearable, people drank tea. However, drinking water soon ran out, so technical or rainwater was boiled several times and used for drinking. They were lucky to have firewood because there was plenty of it at Azovstal since it was needed for the plant's furnaces. Nevertheless, cooking in the open air was impossible: two of Natalia's improvised kitchens came under combat fire. Later, Auntie Soup cooked directly on the steps of the shelter.

When Natalia was evacuating, she asked the children to give her their drawings of the food that they dreamed of during the blockade. Now Auntie Soup is safe in the western part of Ukraine and wonders how people do not understand the value of bread and water. Natalia also tries to keep in touch with other survivors from Azovstal and plans to publish a guide on how to survive a war.


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