On April 20, two months after the start of the war in Ukraine, Igor Pedin decided to leave his town on foot. A resident of Mariupol, a city besieged by the Russians and constantly targeted by their bombardments, he saw Vladimir Putin’s troops land in his neighborhood, firing at random towards the homes of civilians. It was then that he began to fill a backpack with his belongings, sorting everything out so that he had “only” 50 kilos to carry during his journey. Ready after three days, Igor Pedin hit the road at 6 a.m. on April 23 with his dog Zhu-Zhu, aiming to reach the town of Zaporijjia, located 225 kilometers away. Is the Guardian that he told his story.
For several hours, Igor Pedin will cross his town, discovering the craters left by the bombs, the charred vehicles, the unexploded shells and ammunition, and the bodies of people scattered on the ground. Once he had to rush into hiding as a convoy of armored vehicles passed him. “I was then an invisible man“, he tells the Guardian, “I was dirty and covered in dust. […] I went out of town via the Zaporizhia road and at the top I turned around. I looked down at the city and thought to myself that this was the right decision. I said goodbye“. On the first day, Igor Pedin finally managed to reach the town of Nikolske, 20km from his house.
After being greeted by a resident who has lost his 16-year-old son, hit by shellfire, Igor and Zhu-Zhu resume their journey the next day at dawn. And they will be quickly stopped at a checkpoint held by Chechens, the first of their long journey. Brought back two kilometers by these men, they will be taken to a “filtration camp” where Igor Pedin was photographed, searched and stripped naked to see if he had any tattoos, which could have linked him to the Ukrainian army. “A Russian officer seated at a desk asked me where I was going. I lied. I said that I had a stomach ulcer and that I had to go to Zaporizhia because I had paid for treatment.t”, relates the Ukrainian, who spent more than two hours there, but came out with a document “supposedly from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic“, allowing him to pass other checkpoints.
Later, that same day, Igor Pedin is greeted in the dark night by six armed soldiers in Verzhyna: “They barked at me, I put my hands up. They told me to take off my top, they emptied my bag. It was cold. They ordered me to follow them“. Authorized to leave the next day – not before, on pain of being shot -, the sixty-something walks for 20 hours, before being again arrested and searched by Russians. Like every day, he leaves at dawn.
He reached his destination a few days later, having notably crossed a destroyed bridge – with 30 meters of void under him – and climbed two large hills, each time in several round trips because he could not carry his exhausted dog and his bag at the same time. Helped by a truck driver, he arrives in the very center of Zaporijjia, near a volunteer tent. “He hadn’t said anything during the trip but gave me 1,000 hryvnia (about 30 euros, editor’s note). He told me good luck. He had it all figured out“, recalls Igor Pedin.