Rinat Akhmetov Foundation: Archive of Citizen Stories from AzovstalBy David Thompson, UniversityHerald Reporter
Thanks to the help of the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, civilians who found themselves caught up in the fighting in Mariupol and Azovstal will have their stories told for the first time. Through the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation's Museum of Civilian Voices, these stories are being collected, filed, categorized, and shared with the world in a bid to foster a better understanding of the Ukraine-Russia war and the horrors that Russian forces have unleashed on innocent Ukrainian civilians.
The Museum of Civilian Voices
According to the foundation, the Museum of Civilian Voices hopes to create a reliable source of information about the life of civilians during the war, told in the first person, "with the objective of providing a unique psychotherapeutic project that will contribute to the psychological well-being and mental health of Ukrainians traumatized by the war, through the sharing of their stories."
Since the beginning of Russia's assault on Ukraine in February 2022, the Museum of Civilian Voices has become an archive of the tragedies that have unfolded - particularly those in the embattled port city of Mariupol, which has been home to some of the war's most severe fighting and atrocities.
The Museum goes back much further than February of this year, though. From the first days of the invasion in 2014, the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation has taken on the mission of collecting, organizing, and sharing the stories of Ukrainian civilians so everyone can gain a better understanding of life during wartime.
"I want us all to remember this tragedy. And not just statistics. To remember the Ukrainian tragedy in stories, in the faces of people who encountered it. Together we will collect testimonies of civilians affected by the war," says Oleksii Sukhanov, ambassador of the Museum of Civilian Voices, in an article on the foundation's website. He adds how these testimonies will become part of the "largest museum of memory," explaining that every person and every voice is essential in unveiling the truth about the war that Russia has unleashed against Ukraine, its people, their national identity, and their right to exist.
Stories From Azovstal
While the whole of Ukraine has been hit hard by the ongoing conflict, one area in particular has arguably suffered more than any other. The events that unfolded at Metinvest's Azovstal plant in Mariupol shocked the world and became a symbol of the strength and steadfastness of the Ukrainian people and their readiness to fight for their freedom.
During the siege of Mariupol, thousands of civilians, many stuck at Azovstal, found themselves caught up in the fighting. Now, the archive of the Museum of Civilian Voices shares stories of Mariupol residents who withstood all the horrors of the war during their stay at the Metinvest iron and steel works.
One story comes from Serhiy Kuzmenko. He survived large-scale shelling while hiding in the bomb shelter of the Azovstal plant. The premises were damp; everything, including food, was covered with mold; and the wounded people suffered. Shelling persisted for two months; there was not a single day of silence. It wasn't until the beginning of May that Kuzmenko could evacuate to Zaporizhzhia with his family.
Oleksandr Shabanov from Mariupol also sheltered at Azovstal. According to Shabanov, there were 70 people there, including 18 children, some as young as 3 months old. While there was access to water, showers, food, and adequate refrigeration, shells continued to fly overhead, which took their toll. For three weeks people waited to evacuate, and they experienced panic attacks. Both exits were blocked. Finally, people got out through a hole in the wall.
"We thought that it would all end quickly, but it didn't happen," Inna Slitko, a resident of Mariupol, says about the start of hostilities in her hometown. Before the war, she and her husband worked at Azovstal. Inna took her three children and pets to the shelter. They were stuck there for a month, and it would have been very difficult to survive without the help of the Azov fighters.
These three snippets are just a small selection of the more than 15,000 first-hand testaments - vivid, real-life, and unique - from civilians who witnessed the siege of Mariupol.
What is the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation?
The Rinat Akhmetov Foundation (formerly known as the Foundation for Development of Ukraine) is a non-profit organization established on July 15, 2005, by Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov. The mission of the foundation is to "work for people by eliminating the causes of burning social problems; implementing the best practices of Ukraine and other countries; developing unique system solutions; and obtaining the optimal result with every project and action."
To share a story, visit the museum's portal (Museum of Civilian Voices) and click on the "Tell a story" button in the top-right corner of the main page. The stories collected will be published by the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation in the public domain. Thanks to the museum, the atrocities committed during the ongoing war in Ukraine will never be forgotten.