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Battle for Mariupol shows the full brutality of Putin’s war

No water, no electricity, no food: a humanitarian catastrophe is looming in Mariupol due to the Russian invasion. A few weeks ago, the mayor had completely different visions.

A few weeks ago, the mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Bojchenko, was still working on a plan to modernize the Ukrainian port city, and spoke in shirt and tie about new investments in technology, medicine and education. On Saturday he sought shelter in a basement and reported over a shaky telephone line that the Russian military had besieged the city of 400,000 on the Sea of ​​Azov.

He’s wearing a T-shirt, has dark circles under his eyes, and a Ukrainian flag is pinned to the wall behind him. Much of the city lies in ruins. “They are destroying us,” says Bojchenko. Explosions can be heard outside during the video call with the Reuters news agency.

His main concern now is to help residents escape from the city. Most sleep in air-raid shelters. Authorities said six days of shelling and siege by Russian forces cut off people’s supplies of food, water, electricity and heating. “They worked methodically to ensure that the city was blocked,” says 44-year-old Boychenko about the attackers. “They don’t even allow us to count the wounded and killed because the shelling doesn’t stop.”

“Firing Doesn’t Stop”

An emergency generator dimly illuminates the basement where the mayor’s team is housed. Like many other residents, Boychenko has not had any contact with his relatives in recent days – most of them can no longer charge their mobile phones. His son is fighting at the front elsewhere. But his mother, two grandmothers and his brother’s young family are in basements in Mariupol. “I can’t even go to see if they’re still alive because the shelling won’t stop,” says Boychenko.

Many residents of the city really want to leave. An evacuation planned for Saturday had to be postponed because a ceasefire agreed by the leaders in Moscow and Kyiv did not last. Both sides held each other responsible for this. A new attempt was made on Sunday. A ceasefire was to apply from morning to evening, and the evacuation was to begin at noon. According to reports, this attempt also failed.

First hope dashed since invasion began

The agreement to set up an evacuation corridor was the first glimmer of hope since the Russian invasion on February 24, Boychenko says. But on Saturday, shelling by Russian forces destroyed half of the bus convoy his team had put together for the evacuation. “They lied to us,” says the mayor. “The moment people tried to get into those corridors, the shelling started again.”

Boychenko and the Ukrainian forces defending Mariupol have also requested military reinforcements. Russia will not give up trying to conquer the city. With the capture of Mariupol, Russia would gain a strategic connection between the Russian-backed separatist areas in the north and the overland route to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has annexed since 2014. Russia does not describe its actions in Ukraine as a war, but as a “special operation” directed against the military capabilities of its southern neighbor and alleged Nazis.

Mariupol is marked by war
The port city is now marked by war. Rockets and artillery shelling have blown out windows in apartment blocks, blown holes in buildings and ripped open streets, according to photos circulating online, some of which Reuters has been able to verify. With the destruction, Boychenko’s plan to modernize the city has also come to naught.

He worked his way up from train driver in the local steel mill to the management floor, became mayor in 2015 to build the future of the city. “We have created the conditions for people to lead a comfortable life and dream of the future. And now they are taking this future from us,” says Bojchenko, while the video connection keeps dropping. “Right now I feel like they’re ripping my heart and soul out of me.”

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