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61-year-old Ukrainian travels 225 km to safety from Mariupol

Thousands of Mariupol residents are fleeing the port city ravaged by Russian military forces for safety as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third month. Igor Pedin, a 61-year-old man decided to leave his hometown on foot with a bag of groceries and his 9-year-old dog Zhu-Zhu aiming to reach the city of Zaporizhia, located 225 kilometers away.

According to a Guardian report, Igor decided to leave after seeing Russian troops land in his neighborhood and fire into the homes of civilians. He packed a backpack with his belongings, which weighed 50 kilograms, and hit the road at 6 a.m. on April 23 with his dog Zhu-Zhu, the report added.

Igor dodged many convoys of tanks, armored vehicles, and quick-trigger Russian soldiers heading towards Mariupol during his journey. He avoided mines and crossed destroyed bridges with his dog and his luggage. He even risked his life at times when one wrong step could have resulted in a 30-foot fall resulting in certain death. It was an extremely emotional journey and he encountered heartbreaking scenes, smoking houses and weeping men and women, the Guardian quoted as told by Igor.

Pedin, who worked as a cook on a ship, couldn’t anticipate anything and indeed he didn’t turn out to be invisible, he confessed as he shared his story from the safety of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

On the first day, Igor Pedin aimed to reach the town of Nikolske, 20 km from his home. He remembers that on the way he dodged a convoy of heavy armored vehicles which shook the ground beneath him. He took his dog Zhu-Zhu in his coat and sat down until the vehicles passed.

“I looked like a vagabond to them, I was nothing. I was dirty and covered in dust, because my house had been filled with a haze of smoke,” he told the Guardian “I was an invisible man then. What am I to them: who is this shadow? he recalled.

He continued his journey where he was greeted by a grieving father who lost his 16-year-old son in a shellfire. The next day, Igor was stopped at a checkpoint guarded by Chechens, who brought him back two kilometers to a “filtration camp”. Pedin was photographed, searched and stripped naked to see if he had any tattoos that linked him to the Ukrainian military. Igor lied saying he had a stomach ulcer and was going to get treatment when a Russian officer asked him where he was going. After spending two hours in the facility, Igor received a document “supposedly from the Ministry of Interior of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic”, allowing him to pass through further checkpoints.

As he resumed his journey, he was again met late at night by six armed soldiers in Verzhyna. He was allowed to leave the next day, but not before dawn or he would be shot. The next day he walked for 20 hours, before reaching another checkpoint where he was searched and detained again for the night. He left at dawn, resuming his journey.

He crossed a destroyed bridge with a 30-meter gap below him and climbed two hills. He made several trips around the hills as he could not carry his exhausted dog and his luggage at the same time. He was helped by a truck driver on the last leg of his journey. After a long 2-hour drive, passing through several checkpoints, the driver dropped Igor off near a camp in central Zaporizhzhia. The driver also gave Igor 1,000 Ukrainian hryvnia (£30).

At the camp, he saw volunteers and the Ukrainian flag as he was cheered on by a woman for performing the impossible feat. “I guess that was my moment of glory,” Igor told the Guardian.

(Edited by : Sudarsanan Mani)

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