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War in Ukraine | Fleeing residents tell of Mariupol’s “hell”

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(Zaporozhie) Fleeing ‘hell’ from the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukrainian families recount the dead bodies lying in the streets for days, hunger, thirst and the biting cold of nights spent in cellars with sub-zero temperatures .

Under the pressure of incessant bombing by Russian forces on this strategic port in south-eastern Ukraine, these inhabitants, met by AFP in Zaporizhia, some 250 km to the north-east, say they managed to flee after having had to melting snow to be able to drink water and cooking food waste on wood fires to feed themselves, due to the lack of drinking water and food supplies.

“It’s no longer Mariupol, it’s hell,” said Tamara Kavunenko, 58. The Russians “fired so many rockets,” she adds, “the streets are littered with many corpses of civilians.” “When it snowed, we collected the snow and melted it for water. When it wasn’t snowing, we boiled water from the river to drink. »

Mme Kavunenko is one of more than 4,300 displaced people from Mariupol who have arrived in Zaporizhia since the start of the week. According to Kyiv, more than 2,000 people have died so far in Mariupol. The city is of strategic importance insofar as its capture would allow Russia to make the connection between its troops in the Crimea and those in the Donbass while barring access to the Sea of ​​Azov to the Ukrainians.


PHOTO ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO, REUTERS

A woman wipes away tears as she sees the damage caused by Russian strikes on March 17.

On Thursday, Ukraine accused Moscow of having bombed a theater in the city, where hundreds of residents had taken refuge, without taking into account the warning “Diéti” (“Children” in Russian) written on the ground in giant letters in front and behind the building.


IMAGE MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES VIA AP

In this satellite image, the word “Diéti” (“Children” in Russian) can be seen written on both sides of the Mariupol theater on March 14.

smell of death

In a message posted on Telegram, the mayor of Mariupol, Vadim Boitchenko, indicated that around 6,500 cars were able to leave the city overnight from Wednesday to Thursday.

In Zaporizhia, in a Soviet-era circus building, Red Cross volunteers wait for evacuees next to piles of children’s shoes and blankets.

Long nails and dirty hands, Dima told AFP that he had not washed for two weeks and had to loot in stores to be able to feed his children and grandparents.

“We lived underground and when it was -4 degrees Celsius it was a good temperature,” he says, raising his leg to show that he is wearing three pants to protect himself from the cold.

Sometimes the corpses stay on the street for three days. The smell permeates the atmosphere and no one would want their children to smell that.

Dima, resident of Mariupol

Dima says he managed to leave Mariupol after the third attempt and arrived in Zaporozhye on Tuesday with his wife and two young children.

Daria remembers living in the basement of her building with her baby, a daughter, for 10 days.

“Exhausted, sick, in tears”

“Day by day it was getting worse,” she says, “we were left without light, without water, without gas, without any means of subsistence. It was impossible to buy anything, anywhere”.

A Red Cross volunteer, Marina observes the great distress of the survivors. ” They [sont] exhausted, sick, crying,” she says. In Zaporizhia, they are offered shelter and the opportunity to take a shower. “We take care of them”, adds Marina, “we provide them with everything. »

The only way to escape Mariupol is by car. “We saw people with white ribbons [sur leur véhicule] who were leaving,” testifies a woman, Darya, saying that she joined them after suggesting to a neighbor that she should join too.


PHOTO ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO, REUTERS

For some, the trip from Zaporizhia, which usually takes three or four hours, took a day and a half.

Many of those who made it to Zaporizhia say they were unable to leave their shelters because of the violence of the Russian attacks and found a safe route by chance, without the help of telephones or the internet.

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