Destroyed buildings, fresh graves litter city

Galina Vasilyeva looks around the ruins of the ruined Ukrainian city of Mariupol that she once helped build.

Heading towards a charred nine-storey building, the retired red-haired construction worker says: “There are burnt corpses.”

“My own generation built all these buildings. And now they’ve bombed everything, ”says 78-year-old Vasilyeva, queuing for the distribution of humanitarian aid by Russian separatists.

The strategic port city was soon surrounded by Russian troops in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Capturing the city would bind Russian-controlled Crimea to Moscow-backed separatist territories in the eastern Donbas region.

More than a month later, Ukrainian forces continue to resist from inside the city’s large metallurgical and heavy machinery factories, but they are struggling to keep the city with a population of about 500,000 people.

Although the official death toll is unknown, it is believed that thousands of civilians died in the besieged city and others survived without food or water and electricity.

Fear and horror in Mariupol

“Many people are dead and unfortunately we can not remove them all,” Yury Bukharev, a soldier in the separatist army, told reporters who took part in a media tour organized by the Russian army, adding that blamed on the ongoing fight.

Bukharev stands inside the remains of the Mariupol drama theater, partially destroyed and burned in an attack on March 16 and hundreds sheltered in its basement.

It is not known how many people are still buried in the rubble.

“Once we start getting rid of the rubble, the number of victims will be clearer,” Bukharev says.

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Authorities in Kyiv Russia say the theater was deliberately bombed, with Moscow alleging a battalion of Ukrainian nationals for blowing up the theater themselves to blame Russia for it.

They also say that Ukrainian forces used high-rise apartment blocks as firing ranges.

Now that the fight is over, Mariupol’s residents have started coming out in search of food, water and an escape route from the city.

“I know we were horrified and we do not know what will happen. We live because we are on top of a volcano, ”says 59-year-old Tatyana, a city employee who is also waiting for humanitarian aid, carrying a broom that she uses to clean up the city.

“There is fear, fear! What else to say? Many people are suffering, ”says Tatyana, who did not give her last name.

She says that people have died in her apartment: “We bury them there in the yards.”

AFP journalists saw many such graves promptly excavated on a city boulevard.

‘under fire’

With only a backpack between them, Konstantin Mavrodi and his mother Taisiya say they have left their house in hopes of finding a bus leaving Volnovakha, a town further north under Russian rule, where his grandmother lives.

“To get here today, we had to run through fire, under bullets,” Mavrodi says.

They said they came under gunfire as they walked through streets near the Azovstal industrial zone where the Ukrainian army is still resisting, from inside tunnels dug during the Soviet era.

ALSO READ: UK investigates claims of Russian chemical attack in Ukraine

The 28-year-old, who taught children computer science, says everyone in the city has been living without electricity or the internet since March 3, making it impossible to tell family members that they live.

His future is not yet clear, as he is not ready to turn his back on his home country of Ukraine or Russia, where he and his mother have relatives.

“It simply came to our notice then. Which country do we want to live in – we will decide later, ”he says.

Back in the queue for a truck carrying humanitarian aid, Svetlana Yasakova says she has no plans to leave.

“I am homeless, my apartment is completely destroyed. I moved in three months ago, a new, newly renovated apartment, ”says the 43 – year – old accountant in orange glasses, smiling in spite of everything.

“I live at the moment. I am here today, and tomorrow will be tomorrow. I love my city, even in this state. It’s beautiful even like this, ”says Svetlana.

“I am for peace, love and peace. And as they say, may God help all people and take care of the situation. ”

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