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300,000 people trapped in besieged Mariupol face living hell

When Mariupol journalist Artem Popov speaks about his hometown, it sounds like he has a lump in his throat.

The southeastern city of Mariupol has turned into a front line of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. It’s dangerous to move around the city because Russian warplanes are flying over Mariupol every day, constantly shelling residential areas where civilians live, Popov says. 

“Tears do not stop in Mariupol,” he told the Kyiv Independent. “Tears of fear and pain are what every resident of our city goes through (every day).”

The 30-year-old lived his whole life in the southeastern city of Mariupol before fleeing on March 8. Once a bustling port city offering many tourist attractions from a famous mosque to beaches, today it resembles a place from an apocalyptic movie, Popov says, because “almost all the neighborhoods of the city have been destroyed.”

Watching it has been a horror.

“My neighbors, my friends, my relatives, my acquaintances, and places where I’ve made the best memories of my life are being shelled,” he said.

The besieged Mariupol has endured some of Ukraine’s worst misery since Russia unleashed its full-scale invasion of its neighbor on Feb. 24. The city has been subject to heavy Russian bombardment since Moscow’s troops effectively encircled it on March 2. 

The pre-war population of Mariupol was over 400,000 people. About 300,000 civilians were still left in the besieged city as of March 14, according to Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

This includes around 3,000 newborn babies, lacking medicine and food, according to Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. 

An improvement came on March 14-15, when over 20,000 people were able to evacuate Mariupol, according to Vereshchuk.

Others remain stuck in the city, cut off from electricity, water and gas. The city’s internet and mobile networks have shut down since the siege began over two weeks ago. News from the city comes from sporadic contacts and a few international photographers who remain in Mariupol. 

The siege has left people hungry, dehydrated and stuck in freezing basements to avoid indiscriminate Russian shelling. 

Russia has continuously broken agreed-upon ceasefires to evacuate civilians out of Mariupol and bring in relief goods into the city. Critical supplies are becoming dangerously scarce. As of one week ago, grocery stores and pharmacies either ran out of stock or were looted.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that Mariupol residents will face a “worst-case scenario” if their immediate safety and access to humanitarian aid isn’t are ensured. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on March 16 that the peace talks with the Kremlin were beginning to sound “more realistic” but more time was needed to make sure that the outcome of the negotiations was in Kyiv’s interests. Zelensky’s advisor Mykhailo Podolyak described that the talks were very difficult but there was “certainly room for compromise,” adding that the ceasefire negotiations with Russia would continue today.

Previous ceasefire negotiations with Russia have not yielded the results Kyiv hoped for. Moscow has proposed civilian evacuation routes to Russia or its ally Belarus, which Zelensky disregarded as “completely immoral.” 

More than 2,500 people, including children, have been killed in Mariupol since the beginning of Russia’s all-out war, according to Ukrainian presidential office advisor Oleksiy Arestovych. The real number may be higher since the true count is impossible to measure under constant Russian bombardment.

“The Russians are wiping out the city,” Arestovych said on March 14. 

Content Provided by Kyiv Independent. Photo by Evgeniy Maloletka

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