‘We’ve Got Nothing.’ Despair as an Attempt to Evacuate the Ukrainian City of Mariupol Fails
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Corpses lie in the streets of Mariupol. Hungery people go to stores looking for food, and then melt the snow to find water. Many people huddled in basements as they listened to the Russian bombs hitting this port city.
“Why shouldn’t I cry?” Goma Janna demanded as she wept by the light of an oil lamp below ground, surrounded by women and children. “I want my home, I want my job. I’m so sad about people and about the city, the children.”
The city of 430,000 is currently in crisis. On Tuesday, no help was available. A plan to evacuate the civilian population and provide urgently needed water and food through a designated safe corridor fell apart. Ukrainian officials claimed that Russian forces were responsible for the incident.
Nearly two weeks into the invasion, the Russians have advanced deep along Ukraine’s coastline in what could establish a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014. Russian troops have been surrounding Mariupol (located on the Azov sea) for several days.
Mariupol, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, is in a “catastrophic situation.”
Other developments related to the Russian invasion
— Poland offered to give all of its MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S., apparently agreeing to an arrangement that would allow them to be used by Ukraine’s military. But Pentagon press secretary John Kirby later said the plan is not “tenable” and raises serious concerns for the NATO alliance. It was said that the U.S. would continue to discuss this with Poland.
— U.N. officials said that 2 million people have now fled Ukraine.
— Russia’s economic isolation deepened as U.S. President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports and Shell said it will no longer buy oil and natural gas from the country. Also, Adidas and McDonald’s said they are suspending their operations in Russia.
For days, as Moscow’s forces have laid siege to Ukrainian cities, attempts to create corridors to safely evacuate civilians have stumbled amid continuing fighting and objections to the proposed routes. Ukraine has rejected Moscow’s offers of corridors that lead civilians to Russia or its ally Belarus.
Russian forces deny firing on convoys, and charge that the Ukrainian side has blocked evacuation attempts.
Vereshchuk stated Tuesday that one evacuation had succeeded. Vereshchuk claimed that about 5,000 civilians (including 1,700 students from abroad) were evacuated via safe passage through Sumy. Sumy is an embattled northeastern town of nearly a quarter million people. There, 21 deaths, including two children, overnight, and Vereshchuk confirmed the success of this evacuation.
Natalia Mudrenko, the highest-ranking woman at Ukraine’s U.N. Mission, told the Security Council that the people of Mariupol have “been effectively taken hostage,” by the siege. As she described the tragic death of her six-year old mother, Mudrenko’s voice was shaken with emotion. “She was alone in the last moments of her life,” she said.
Mariupol officials planned to begin digging mass graves, although the total number is not known. It has been a disaster for the city, with no power, heat or working sewage system, nor phone service.
Theft has become widespread for food, clothes, even furniture, with locals referring to the practice as “getting a discount.” Some residents are reduced to scooping water from streams.
Many people rely on car radios to get information when the power goes out. They can also access news stations that are broadcast in areas controlled or backed by Russia.
Ludmila Amelkina was walking down an alley filled with rubble, walls punctured by gunfire and said that the damage had been severe.
“We don’t have electricity, we don’t have anything to eat, we don’t have medicine. We’ve got nothing,” she said, looking skyward.
In just two weeks of fighting, thousands died across the country. Russian forces have seen their advances stopped in certain areas — including around Kyiv, the capital, where a vast armored column has been stalled for days — by fiercer resistance than expected from the Ukrainians.
The video was released late Tuesday by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s President. It shows him standing close to the Kyiv presidential offices. He was surrounded by piles de sandbags, snow-dusted trees and several vehicles.
It was the second video in 24 hours showing him near the country’s seat of power, apparently made to dispel any doubts about whether he had fled the city.
“Snow fell. It’s that kind of springtime,” he said in a soft voice. “You see, it’s that kind of wartime, that kind of springtime. Harsh. But we will win.”