The tragedy of Mariupol
In Mariupol, Russia’s full-scale invasion began in the early morning of February 24th. At about 5 a.m. the Russian army began its devastating bombardment of Mariupol. These bombs were not targeted only at military infrastructure, as Putin claimed. In reality, Russia started shelling residential areas of Mariupol almost immediately that morning.
In the first hours of the invasion, the Russian army destroyed 8 private houses and hit 12 high-rise buildings with Grad missiles in the “Skhidny” residential area of the city. In those first few hours 33 people were wounded. These were not military targets, they were peaceful civilians sleeping in their homes in Mariupol and the nearby village of Talakivka.
Ukraine’s strong resistance and defense of Mariupol likely surprised the invading Russian forces. For almost a week the Russians’ attempted advances were consistently pushed back by Ukrainian troops. After which, the Russian army began to deploy a scorched earth policy of total destruction to attempt to subdue the city.
The situation in Mariupol demonstrates that this was a plan that the Russian military command had prepared in advance.
On March 1st, Russian forces completed their encirclement around Mariupol. At the same time, they began to deliberately destroy the city’s infrastructure. Food warehouses were targeted firstly, to limit people’s access to vital supplies.
Just prior to the invasion the city authorities had started to stockpile foodstuffs as a contingency measure. These products were stored at two places in the city – on the territory of the municipal enterprise “Komunalnyk” and at the Mariupol Central Market.
On March 1st, these food warehouses were specifically and accurately targeted by Russian troops and completely destroyed as a result.
On March 2nd, the invading Russian forces targeted all 15 electrical cable entry points into the city, leaving Mariupol without power and plunged into darkness. Without electricity the city’s boiler houses also stopped working, leaving Mariupol’s citizens without heat in freezing weather conditions. And on the same day, Russian troops bombed the main drinking water supply channel and then the auxiliary supply. Cutting off water to the entire city.
In their attempts to further punish and subdue Mariupol’s citizens, the Russian army targeted Mariupol’s main fire department to prevent emergency workers from protecting properties that had come under Russian shelling.
And finally, during this one long, hellish day, the Russians then bombed a primary gas pipeline, leaving Mariupol (and other nearby cities including Berdiansk) without gas for cooking or heating.
On March 2nd, Russian forces began systematically targeting and destroying the city’s mobile communication towers, preventing citizens from communicating with one another or with the Ukrainian authorities.
Thus, the cruel and inhuman blockade of Mariupol began. Russia implemented a strategy of total suppression and destruction of Mariupol’s civilian population deliberately and cynically. They created a humanitarian catastrophe, leaving the city without water, heat, light and phone connection, while at the same time they blocked all routes for humanitarian aid to get to residents in need.
Before the Russian invasion, half a million people lived in Mariupol. It was one of the ten largest cities in Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, before Russian forces were able to complete their blockade of the city, about 100 thousand inhabitants managed to flee. Those who were not able or willing to leave found themselves in a situation that can only be described as a hellish nightmare filled with suffering, death and destruction.
“We stayed in the city because we believed in its defense capability. We believed in it so much that we considered everyone who left Mariupol to be traitors. But we were wrong. Nobody had imagined what started later. We saw the war in 2014. But what is happening now is not just war, it is destruction. The destruction of the civilian population. There were no military headquarters, bases of the Armed Forces, etc. in our house. Ordinary yard of high-rise buildings. But the missiles hit my house. And worst of all were the airstrikes. This horror is indescribable. It is impossible to hear such a sound. It paralyzes your will. You realize that you have to save your child and you realize that you are powerless,” said Mariupol resident Kateryna Ilchenko.
We saw the war in 2014. But what is happening now is not just war, it is destruction. The destruction of the civilian population.said Mariupol resident Kateryna Ilchenko
On March 2nd, it became clear that the remaining residents in Mariupol needed to be evacuated immediately. The issue of evacuation was raised repeatedly during the talks between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators. But the Russian side refused to provide humanitarian corridors.
On March 6th, an agreement was finally reached for a ceasefire and a route for evacuees to leave the city. However, it was short lived. Oleksandr G.and Oksana I. both from Mariupol witnessed Russia’s cruel attack on their civilian convoy as they began travelling from a shopping mall on their way out of the city. At the moment the column started moving, Russia troops opened fire from multiple-launch rocket systems (called “Grad”, meaning hailstones) on the civilian vehicles.
On March 9th, Russian warplanes began a concerted bombing campaign against the city. Prior to this, Russian multiple-launch rocket systems had been a primary source of destruction. But now, heavy bombs and missiles rained down from Russian fighter jets, causing complete destruction to the already battered buildings and blocks of flats. The buildings that somehow remained standing are now simply shells, gutted by the fires caused by Russian bombs.
On that day Russia targeted a technical university and the Mariupol City Maternity Hospital. The images of destruction from these bombings were seen around the world.
It’s important to highlight that Russia’s leadership officially admitted that their soldiers had targeted the maternity hospital, claiming it was used as a base for so-called “Ukrainian Nazis” (a common false narrative peddled by Russian propagandists).
The harrowing pictures speak for themselves. This was not a military base and the victims were not soldiers, they were the most vulnerable people imaginable – heavily pregnant women, unborn and newly born babies. Russia’s cruelty in committing these war crimes and their cynical propaganda attempting to justify it knows no bounds.
A neonatologist who was working at the maternity hospital at the time of the bombing spoke the obvious truth: “This was a hospital. They rescued people there. The new mothers were waiting for the birth of their babies there.”
Three adults and one child died at the moment of the bombing, another woman died from her wounds, along with her unborn baby, the next day.
As a result of this callous war crime, several surviving maternity hospital patients were evacuated to the central Drama Theater building, which was serving as a temporary bomb shelter for over a thousand citizens at the time. At least three women with infants were taken there on March 9th. They were not housed in the basement because it was cold and damp there, which could harm their newborn babies’ health. So they were put in more comfortable rooms – the dressing rooms of the theater, located on the right wing of the building.
On March 16th, a Russian warplane dropped a massive bomb directly onto the right wing of the theater, killing everyone taking shelter in that part of the building.
Nadezhda P. and her daughter survived the attack and bore witness to the hundreds (at least 300) innocent civilians who died in the bombing.
There were no soldiers in the theater. But there were many, many children. Citizens taking shelter there had even written in large letters outside the theater the word “CHILDREN” (ru. ДЕТИ), in a vain attempt to deter Russian warplane pilots. But they dropped their bomb regardless — knowing full well that they were murdering innocents.
On the same day, March 16th, Russian warplanes bombed the military hospital №61. Next door there was a public swimming pool facility, where about 600 people were taking shelter. One of the bombs hit this makeshift shelter as well. It’s still unknown how many people were killed there.
These crimes against civilians take place in Mariupol every day, right now as you’re reading this. There are now numerous testimonies of these abhorrent crimes. Like the testimony of Iryna Horbasyova, who began counting the number of air strikes in the area where she lived (the Primorsky district of Mariupol). One day she counted 55 bombs from the morning till 1 p.m. Then she stopped counting.
The shelling and bombing on Mariupol does not stop, every 10-15 minutes a bomb or a missile falls on the city. Reports of these atrocities now often sound like mere statistics, due to the sheer scale of the numbers involved. But each number reflects so much more – these are lives destroyed, homes and businesses blown apart, bright and peaceful futures cut short.
In order to record these crimes against humanity, it is necessary for humanitarian organizations and journalists to be able to work in the city. The desire to hide these terrible crimes is one of the reasons why Russian troops are blockading the city in every possible way. They believe this tragedy and all their crimes can be buried there.
But fortunately, thanks to the heroic actions of journalists, refugees and the Ukrainian military, we still have evidence of these crimes.
On March 19th, an explosion erupted at an Art School in the Livoberezhnyi district of Mariupol where 400 women and children were hiding. A Russian warplane dropped one of its heavy bombs. The death toll is still unknown.
Unfortunately, there are no journalists left in the city who can now record these crimes. We learn about them from the city’s residents. That’s how we learned about another terrible crime of Russian troops forcibly deporting Mariupol civilians to far away parts of Russia.
Here’s just one harrowing example. Russian soldiers deported a 12-year-old girl called Kira Obedinska to occupied Donetsk. Her grandfather, Oleksandr Obedinsky, was a well-known coach of the national team of Ukraine, and he is waiting for her in Ukraine. His son, Yevhen, was a Ukrainian water polo champion. He died in Mariupol as a result of Russian shelling on March 17th. Kira was with her father when he died. And when the Russians captured the part of the city where she was sheltering, they took her and forcibly moved her to Donetsk, where they are now preparing her documents for a further deportation to Russia.
Other testimony tells how the Russians deported the staff and patients of city hospitals №1 and №4, and maternity hospital №2.
A Mariupol resident Andriy Voloshin cannot be calm when he hears the official statistics of the death toll in Mariupol. “5,000 dead? That’s not what it is! In the basement where I was hiding 50 Mariupol residents died after the bomb hit. Immediately! And how many such bombs have been falling? How many such basements are there? 90% of buildings in Mariupol have been destroyed or damaged”.
“People don’t know what to do with corpses. So they just stack them on their balconies. Hundreds of balconies that have become a cemetery!”testifies Mariupol resident Kateryna Ilchenko
There are several mass graves in which 200 unidentified bodies are buried. Hundreds of graves are now also in the yards of buildings and on roadsides. Hundreds of bodies remain in destroyed buildings, crushed by destroyed slabs and bricks. Locals say that now the weather is starting to become warm, the smell of corpses has started spreading from destroyed homes and buildings.
We will only know the true scale of this tragedy once Ukraine has liberated Mariupol and pushed out the Russian occupiers. Today, thousands of Mariupol residents are looking for their relatives, friends and loved ones. But sooner or later, their corpses on the roadsides, balconies and in mass graves will begin to regain their names.
And then the dark abyss of this tragedy will be opened for all of us to see and to seek justice.
Anna Murlykina, Chief Editor of 0629.com.ua, the website of Mariupol