When he understood that his 9-year-old son would perish under the bombs or die of thirst if they stayed in Mariupol, Pavel Gomzyakov decided that they would leave the city besieged by the Russians at all costs.
“We survived in the cold without being able to call for help, without drinking water, food or medicine,” the father of the family told The Press.
He is not the only one. Thousands of civilians decided to leave Mariupol this week. On Wednesday, a theater where hundreds of people had taken refuge was bombed by the Russians, according to the Ukrainian authorities.
These reported Friday that “hundreds” of people were still under the rubble of the theater. The Ukrainian president accuses the Russian forces of having targeted the building in front of which the word “CHILDREN” had been painted on the ground in large letters, in Russian, in a vain attempt to protect its occupants.
It is the latest horror to hit the town in southeastern Ukraine, which Russian forces have been pounding for days. Last week, a pediatric hospital and a maternity hospital in Mariupol were also bombed by Russia, according to Kyiv.
Pavel Gomzyakov thought he could stay in his city at the start of hostilities. Together with his wife and son, they first moved to his parents in a neighborhood far from the front. But the fighting got closer.
So the wedding photographer decided he had to go. On March 10, he filled a backpack with his precious photographic equipment. The family took some rare luggage. Then they tried to flee.
The city was bombed, the roads mined, he said. It was impossible to leave. They had to go to a shelter where they stayed until March 15.
My son wanted to eat and drink, he was cold and shells were exploding above his head, houses were burning around him! The air force was constantly flying and dropping bombs.
Meanwhile, her 17-year-old daughter was stuck in the besieged city of Kharkiv, where she is studying. Consumed by fear, the parents managed to get her to leave for Germany “with good people”. “My daughter is alone in a foreign country now,” says Pavel.
Then, on Wednesday, the family tried everything for everything. She got into a friend’s car and then fled Mariupol along a road she knew was mined.
According to municipal authorities, 300,000 people are still stuck in the city, without water, food, electricity and heating. “Very few lucky people who have a car and fuel have escaped from Mariupol. No one saves others,” laments Pavel.
But his nightmare is far from over. The family is now on the road to exile. Without resources, she must rely on the generosity of friends.
Mariupol was a beautiful, peaceful city. The hostilities deprived me of my home and my means of subsistence. All this burned in Mariupol.
Theatre: an uncertain assessment
Mariupol authorities estimate that the siege killed 2,500 people there. The toll could increase with the attack on the theater, although for the moment, no deaths have been reported.
According to the Mariupol city council, the shelling caused at least one serious injury. The search for survivors was still ongoing on Friday, authorities said.
The case of Mariupol shows how difficult it is to see through the fog of war. The municipality’s death toll is well above the 816 counted by the UN across Ukraine as of March 17.
“The real number is probably much higher,” acknowledged UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo.
Mariupol has been cut off from the world for days. But Ukrainians who fled the city this week are sharing their stories, which point to a much heavier toll.
“There are people with torn limbs lying in their backyards. No one can help them,” said Christina Jolos, who has just fled Mariupol, in a Facebook post.
“The dead are simply covered with earth on the spot. Their loved ones can’t even find them afterwards, she says. Often people are killed when they go to fetch water, when they wait in line or when they cook soup over a wood fire. »
With Agence France-Presse