Twice a day for more than one week, CNN producer Mayumi Maruyama has been trying to phone a couple she calls “Tato” and “Mama” — Ukrainian for dad and mom.
They live in a small village outside Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine now encircled by Russian troops who’ve reduced major landmarks to rubble.
A few years ago, in peaceful times, Tato and Mama welcomed Maruyama into their lives, treating her like a daughter as they shared meals and swapped stories about their very different lives.
Then war came.
The last time Maruyama spoke to Tato, from her new home in Tokyo, was on March 9.
The connection was shaky, and we were only able to talk for about a minute, Maruyamawrote for CNN. “We don’t have light,” are the only words I could make out from our stilted conversation as the line cut in and out.
Here she picks up the story: On Friday night, I had a little hope. The phone switched from voicemail to busy. Then the next day, after my relatives took me on a trip to help get my mind off the war, I received a message from a neighbor with news.
Tato and Mama were alive.
My friend’s mother was able to get a hold of someone in their village. Tato and Mama were sheltering in a basement with other people, she said. And Mama’s mother, 91-year-old Babusya, was with them.
“Once in a while, someone brings them bread,” the friend said. “Their house is still intact.”
I remember the basement they are sheltering in. It was cold but spacious and there are no walls between the toilets.
Last week, 10 people were killed by Russian troops in Chernihiv as they tried to buy bread outside the Epicenter K — Ukraine’s version of Home Depot — a warehouse-style building that had already been destroyed by shelling.
It’s still risky to attempt to escape the village.
But I’m relieved that Tato and Mamo are alive, even as fighting rages around them.
Read more about their story: