© Reuters. A woman reacts as she speaks near an apartment building that was destroyed during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 17, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
By Pavel Klimov
MARIUPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) – In Mariupol, everyday life is a series of harrowing escapes from bomb explosions and basic survival rituals, amid the rubble that litters everywhere.
Uncollected corpses wrapped in blankets, coats or other available coverings lie in courtyards cleared of debris. The dead are often buried in communal graves.
All around are the blackened shells of the sprawling tower blocks typical of Soviet-era residences. Twisted metal on balconies, shattered windows, wood, metal and other wreckage scattered between buildings and in streets.
According to local authorities, some 400,000 people have been trapped for more than two weeks in the strategic seaport city on the Sea of Azov, sheltered from heavy bombing that cut off central electricity, heating and water supplies.
Russia’s defense ministry said on Friday its forces were “tightening the noose around Mariupol” and fighting had reached the city center.
With no running water or heating, women squat around makeshift barbecues to cook all the food they can find. With spring approaching, there is no more snow to melt for drinking water.
Residents say no one expected this in post-Soviet Ukraine – a relentless onslaught from what was once seen as a “brotherly” Russia – although some have witnessed other upheavals that shook the country back under Soviet rule.
“She had a Russian passport, Russian citizenship, a lot of medals,” said a dejected Alexander, 57, gesturing to the open-air spot where his wife’s mother’s body remains for the time being.
“My mother-in-law was born in 1936. She survived the siege of Leningrad,” he said, referring to the 900-day Nazi encirclement of the city now known as St. Petersburg. “She was an honored worker of fish farming in the Russian Federation. So that’s where she is.”
Officials in Mariupol say 2,500 people have died since Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border on Feb. 24.
Donetsk region governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Friday that about 35,000 people had managed to leave the city in recent days, many on foot or in convoys of private cars during the rare moments when Russian shelling subsides.
Those left behind occasionally border on despair – the cold and the fear take their toll.
“I feel terrible. I don’t want to blame anyone, but I’m disgusted and scared. And I’m cold,” said a woman, Olga, who wore a pink hat under a hoodie and a large coat. “I just don’t have words for it. I wasn’t ready for my life to be like this.”
Russia denies targeting civilians and has accused Kiev of using them as human shields, something Ukrainian officials deny.
Mariupol is seen as a strategic prize for the Russian invaders to build a bridge between Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, and two separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine.
Last week, a maternity hospital was bombed, causing patients to flee onto the streets. A theater used to house families forced out of their homes was also hit – despite the word ‘children’ written outside in letters large enough to be read by pilots.
A sense of togetherness has developed among the residents who fear for their lives. Strangers take in other strangers.
“We spent two days in the basement. She couldn’t move. I didn’t think she would survive,” said one middle-aged resident, gesturing to her elderly mother.
“Then we managed to get out of the basement. This is the first time I’ve seen these people. But they protected us. And here we sit here, covered with blankets. It’s very cold here. We just want to go home. “
Children, watch, not understanding.
‘Don’t worry, my little darling. Everything will be fine,” said an unsmiling young mother, hugging her two school-aged children.
Outside in the courtyard, groups of men wandered aimlessly, surveying the ruined buildings.
And around them lay the bodies. The only identifying marks are scraps of paper attached to makeshift crosses, each with a name and dates of birth and death. And no indication when they will be picked up.
This post Dead buildings tower over uncollected corpses in Mariupol, on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine By Reuters
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