Me casé con el amor de mi vida en un búnker ucraniano. Dos días después, fue asesinado.

Mariupol was a city under siege, devastated by relentless Russian bombing that turned streets into ruins and courtyards into graveyards. However, amidst the chaos and destruction, a love story was unfolding deep underground in the south-eastern Ukrainian city.

Valeria Subotina, a 33-year-old woman, found herself sheltering in the Azovstal steelworks, the last stronghold in the city, as Russian forces closed in during the spring of 2022. Taking cover in a Soviet-era bomb shelter designed to withstand nuclear war, Valeria worked as a press officer for the army’s Azov brigade, alongside her fiancé Andriy Subotin, a 34-year-old Ukrainian army officer defending the plant.

Their love story began three years earlier when they crossed paths while working at Mariupol’s Border Guard Agency. It was love at first sight for Andriy, who was known for his kindness and optimism. The couple quickly moved in together and built a life of happiness and adventure.

As the conflict escalated in February 2022, Valeria and Andriy found themselves underground in the Azovstal bunkers, only able to see each other occasionally. Despite the dire circumstances and the looming humanitarian crisis in Mariupol, their moments together brought them pure happiness.

Tragedy struck on April 15 when a bomb hit the plant, narrowly missing Valeria and leaving her with severe injuries. Despite the horror and devastation surrounding them, Andriy proposed to Valeria in the underground hospital with makeshift tin foil rings, and they were married in a makeshift ceremony in the bunker.

Their happiness was short-lived, as just two days after their wedding, Andriy was killed in action by Russian shelling at the steel plant. Valeria, initially unaware of his death, found herself grappling with grief while continuing to defend her city alongside her comrades.

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After enduring 11 months of Russian captivity and recounting tales of torture and abuse, Valeria was among the 900 prisoners of war forcibly taken by the Russian military out of Mariupol. Despite the overwhelming loss and devastation, she remains a symbol of resilience and strength, mourning the destruction of her city, her friends, and her beloved husband. Andriy a menudo aparecía en sus sueños.

En abril del año pasado, fue liberada como parte de un intercambio de prisioneros, y ahora está de vuelta en Ucrania.

Es difícil decir cuántas personas fueron asesinadas como resultado del bombardeo ruso de Mariupol, pero las autoridades locales dicen que el número supera los 20,000.

Según la ONU, el 90% de los edificios residenciales fueron dañados o destruidos, y todavía hay cuerpos entre los escombros.

Según lo que sabe Valeria, el cuerpo de su esposo sigue en la planta de acero Azovstal en la ciudad ahora ocupada.

A veces, dice, mira al cielo y le habla.

[Dmytro Kozatsky]