Thousands of residents of Mariupol are fleeing from the port-city ravaged by the Russian military forces to safety as Russia's invasion of Ukraine has entered the third month. Igor Pedin, a 61-year-old man decided to leave his home town on foot with a bag of supplies and his 9-year-old dog Zhu-Zhu aiming to reach the town of Zaporizhzhia, located 225 kilometres away.
According to a Guardian report, Igor decided to leave after he witnessed Russian troops land in his neighbourhood and firing at the homes of civilians. He filled a backpack with his belongings, which weighed 50 kilograms, and hit the road at 6 am on April 23 with his dog Zhu-Zhu, the report added.
Igor dodged many convoys of tanks, armoured vehicles and trigger-happy Russian soldiers racing towards Mariupol during his journey. He sidestepped mines and crossed destroyed bridges with his dog and luggage. He even risked his life at times where an erring step could have led to a 30 feet drop to certain death. It was an extremely emotional journey as well as he would come across heart breaking scenes, the smouldering homes and weeping men and women, quoted the Guardian as narrated by Igor.
Pedin, who worked as a cook in a ship could not anticipate any of this and indeed he did not prove to be invisible, he confessed as he shared his tale in the safety of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
On the first day, Igor Pedin aimed to reach the town of Nikolske, 20km from his house. He recalls on his way, he dodged a convoy of heavy armoured vehicles that shook the ground beneath him. He took his dog Zhu-Zhu in his coat and sat still till the vehicles passed.
“I looked like a vagabond to them, I was nothing. I was dirty and covered from dust, as my house had been filled with a fog of smoke” he told the Guardian. “I was an invisible man then. What am I to them: who is this shadow?” he recalled.
He proceeded in his journey where he was greeted by a mourning 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 would link him to the Ukrainian Army. Igor lied that 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 Internal Affairs of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic“, allowing him to pass other checkpoints.
As he resumed his journey, he was again greeted late at night by six armed soldiers in Verzhyna. He was allowed to leave the next day but not before dawn or else he would be shot. The next day he walked for 20 hours, before reaching another checkpoint where he was searched and again held for the night. He left at dawn, resuming his journey.
He crossed a destroyed bridge with a 30 metres void under him and climbed two hills. He made several trips around the hills as he could not carry his exhausted dog and baggage at the same time. He was helped by a truck driver in the last leg of his journey. After a 2-hour long drive, crossing more checkpoints, the driver dropped Igor 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 by a woman for achieving the impossible feat. “I suppose it was my moment of glory,” Igor told the Guardian.
(Edited by : Sudarsanan Mani)