Authorities are trying to reopen a humanitarian corridor from the port city of Mariupol, where the situation is deteriorating after more than a week of besiegement by Russian forces.
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Located on the shores of the Sea of Azov, between occupied Crimea and Donbas, this strategic enclave has a population of 450,000 inhabitants. The city has been without electricity, heating and water for days after Russian bombing. Voices are growing that warn of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the city, where the Red Cross has described the conditions as “apocalyptic”, according to international media. Doctors Without Borders has warned of a “serious, serious emergency and a potential disaster”.
Attempts to evacuate civilians from the city through humanitarian corridors have failed as of Tuesday, with Ukrainian authorities accusing Russia of violating the ceasefire and preventing the evacuation. Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba accused Moscow on Tuesday of “holding 300,000 civilians hostage in Mariupol” and stated that Russia “prevents humanitarian evacuation despite agreements mediated by the Red Cross.” The attacks also prevent you from carrying water, food and medicine.
Natalia Mudrenko, of the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UN, accused Russia of violating agreements on humanitarian corridors. “For example, in Mariupol, the Ukrainian forces removed mines and roadblocks to ensure evacuation along the previously agreed route. (…) The Russian forces immediately bombed and tried to attack through this route”.
This Wednesday, Ukraine is once again trying to evacuate civilians through a humanitarian corridor from Mariúpol – to Zaporizhia –, as reported by the Deputy Prime Minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, who describes the situation in the port city as “catastrophic”.
Alex Wade, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, said this weekend that the biggest concern for the NGO today is the situation in Mariupol. “The city has been heavily bombed day and night for the past few days. The worst damage has occurred in the city center and on the outskirts. There have even been supermarkets that have been attacked. The population does not have access to food and has been forced to take it from supermarkets, even though these are almost completely empty. The same goes for pharmacies.
Wade warned that the situation is getting more serious. “Day after day we do our best to address and meet humanitarian needs across the country, but it is a big challenge, as these needs are changing and increasing very quickly,” he said in a statement. “There is no electricity, which means no heating. There is also no water. We are in contact with our colleagues, with people we have known and worked with for years and who are there, who communicate these needs to us”.
People do not know where they can get water, as described by MSF. People are drinking water from the rain or collecting snow to melt it so they can drink. “He’s even taking it off the heating systems so he can wash his hands.”
According to AP, the corpses lie in the streets of the city and citizens loot stores in search of food, food and even furniture. Mariupol authorities plan to start digging mass graves for all the dead, although the number is unclear.
Last week, local authorities said they feared a high death toll after many hours of continuous shelling of the city. Deputy Mayor Sergiy Orlov told the BBC that a riverside district normally home to 130,000 people was “almost totally destroyed”. “We cannot count the number of victims there, but we believe that at least hundreds of people have died. We can’t go in to retrieve the bodies. (…) The Russian Army is working with all its weapons here: artillery, multiple rocket launch systems, planes, tactical rockets. They are trying to destroy the city.”
According to Western analysts, Russian forces have continued their encirclement of Mariupol and increased their efforts to enter the city, as well as to consolidate ground control in the Donetsk region.
No humanitarian aid
Mudrenko accused Russia on Tuesday of holding civilians “hostage” and has said that “the critical situation” in Mariupol demands immediate action by world leaders and humanitarian and medical organizations.
Civilians, mostly women and children, “are not allowed out and humanitarian aid is not allowed in,” he told the UN Security Council, his voice trembling with emotion. “If they try to get out, the Russians open fire and kill them. They run out of food and water, and they die.”
Mudrenko has claimed that a six-year-old girl died in Mariupol on Monday, “alone in the last moments of her life as her mother was killed by Russian bombing.” The city’s mayor, Vadim Boychenko, said Tuesday that the girl’s name was Tanya, that she died of dehydration and that her body had been pulled from the rubble of a destroyed residential building. “Her mother was murdered,” he said. “We cannot imagine the suffering she had to endure. In the last minutes of her life she was alone, weak, scared and thirsty”. And he added: “This is just one of the many stories from Mariupol, which has been in lockdown for eight days.”
The latest data from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights brings the number of civilian victims in Ukraine to 1,335, including 474 deaths -29 of them minors- and 861 wounded since February 24, the day the invasion. However, the office believes that the actual figures are considerably higher.