in Mariupol, surrounded by Russian troops, the population has “nowhere to go”

Mariupol, martyr city of the war in Ukraine? Besieged by Russian troops and pro-Russian separatists since early March, the port city on the Sea of ​​Azov is now under constant bombardment. Civilian buildings are not spared either. A theater where hundreds of families had sought refuge was hit by a strike on Wednesday, March 16. Accused, the Kremlin denied any responsibility.

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For residents who have not fled this still-Kiev-owned city of Donbass – estimated to number around 300,000 – everyday life takes on the air of a waking nightmare. Russian strikes, which have intensified in recent days, have destroyed much of the city of 450,000. Electricity and communications have been cut for more than two weeks and telephone signal is still weak in some rare places.

The population, exhausted, entrenched in cellars or makeshift shelters, has no water or food left. Several attempts to provide humanitarian aid have failed. Some residents told AFP they had melted snow to drink and cook what little food was available while on their way to Zaporizhzhya, further west.

In Mariupol (Ukraine) on March 7, 2022, refugees queue up in a makeshift shelter to get a meal.  (EVGENIY MALOLETKA / AP)

“The city is now surrounded by Russian soldiers, who are slowly taking their lives, explosion after explosion”writes the Associated Press (in English), the last international media that still has journalists on site. More than 2,350 people have died in Mariupol, according to the Ukrainian government. But the number could be much higher. Thus, AP reporters report mass graves and describe streets littered with bodies left behind for at least a week, killed by incessant bombing, “sometimes one every minute”

Men move a body to a mass grave, in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (EVGENIY MALOLETKA/AP)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), whose team is still present in the city, also describes a catastrophic situation for the civilian population. “People start attacking each other to get food. They destroy the cars of their fellow citizens to fill up with petrol” to heat or cook food, the team describes in a March 10 audio exchange. “People get sick from the cold. They have nowhere to go” and many have no food for their children.

A police officer walks next to bodies of people killed in shelling, next to a hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 15, 2022. (EVGENIY MALOLETKA/AP)

ICRC members explain: “try to do the best” she can in the face of civilians who “Be afraid”. “We are trying to provide electricity to people on the street through the generator, so that they can charge their phones. They use it as lighting when night falls.” Based on these dramatic testimonies, the ICRC warned (in English) on Sunday about: “a worst case scenario” in Mariupol. “History will horrify what will happen in this city unless agreement is reached between the parties as soon as possible”the organization urges.

According to the Associated Press story, the bombing appears to have doubled in intensity in the past ten days and has hit many civilian buildings. The bombing of a maternity ward on March 9 thus caused unrest in the international community.

The image of Mariana Vishegirskaya, who gave birth to a girl after being pulled from the rubble in her pajamas, went around the world. But not all women were so lucky. For example, in its report, the AP reports the heartbreaking story of this other pregnant woman, rescued from the rubble minutes after she was forced to give birth to her stillborn child by the bombing. ‘The doctors didn’t have time to ask their names’writes the American news agency.

Anastasia Erashova, a child in her arms, mourns the death of her other child after a bombing, on March 11, 2022 in Mariupol, Ukraine.  (EVGENIY MALOLETKA / AP)

On Wednesday, the Donetsk regional theater was the target of a strike. According to local authorities and the Human Rights Watch association, several hundred people had sought refuge there, the first of whom were… “thousand people”, the NGO that ensured that 500 to 800 people attended. A photo of the building shows the word “children” written on the sidewalk, in large white letters and in Russian, on the front and back of the building, to warn of the presence of civilians inside. For now, the exact number of victims has yet to be determined.

On Thursday, the first testimonials of injuries began to flow. One of them, Olga, could be contacted by franceinfo. “I can only tell you that the strike on our side of the building was a little less powerful, she explained, visibly lost. But the ceiling collapsed. I have a head wound, but I’m still alive!” She hasn’t heard from her husband yet. “stayed under the rubble”

Ukrainian authorities say those who try to flee are often the target of gunfire. “At one point people tried to flee on foot. A grenade fell 50 meters from them”told AFP Yulia, a resident who managed to flee on March 11. “On the road we saw burnt civilian cars, sometimes tilted on their side. We understood that the Russians had fired at them.”

Russian tanks on the streets of the outskirts of Mariupol (Ukraine) on March 11, 2022. (EVGENIY MALOLETKA / AP)

In mid-March, the evacuations of civilians gained momentum. On Tuesday, several thousand people were transported to Zaporizhzhya, 270 km from Mariupol, according to Ukrainian authorities. Until then spared from the conflict, however, the city was also hit by several strikes, which damaged the station.