MARIUPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) -Amid the burnt-out frames of shelled buildings and bare branches of trees, only a children’s playground set, now abandoned, lends colour to this neighbourhood in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
The port city, which had a prewar population of more than 400,000, has been a strategic focus of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began five weeks ago, and has suffered near-constant bombardment.
Nearly 5,000 people have been killed, the mayor’s office estimated on Monday, and about 170,000 people remain trapped amid ruins without food, heat, power or running water. Many more have fled. Reuters has been unable to verify the figures.
Everybody seems to know someone who has been killed.
“On March 16, our friend was driving a car, and a bullet got him right in the throat. Five minutes later he was gone,” said a man who gave his first name only as Pavel, standing next to a freshly covered grave adorned with a simple wooden cross, near his garage.
The port city has become a mass grave as residents bury their neighbours and family members near the apartment buildings where they used to live.
Pavel said he was with his friend Igor in the car at the time and only managed to take him home before he died.
Mariupol has been targeted in an apparent attempt by Russia to create a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, and pro-Russian separatist regions in eastern Ukraine. It calls its actions a “special operation.”
Safe evacuation corridors have functioned only sporadically at best. Instead, residents who have been unable to leave the city hide in the basements of buildings and prepare what food they can find in the open.
“We cook what we find among neighbours. A bit of cabbage, a bit more of potatoes, we’ve found tomato paste, some beetroot,” said former steel worker Viktor. They cook using a rudimentary barbecue and sleep in a basement, which he termed their “peaceful oasis.”
“We have nowhere to take a shower, we are drinking water from God knows where,” said a woman named Lyudmila, who was in the basement with Viktor.
“Not a life for a retiree,” she said, smiling ruefully.
(Reporting by Reuters in Mariupol; Writing by Karishma Singh; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)