Russia and Ukraine: fighting in the streets of Mariupol makes it difficult to rescue hundreds of civilians

Heavy fighting this Saturday between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the streets of central Mariupol has made it difficult to rescue hundreds of civilians trapped in the ruins of the city鈥檚 Regional Dramatic Theater.

The building, in whose basement it is estimated that there were more than 1,000 refugees, was the subject of a strong attack last Wednesday.

Ukrainian officials say Russian forces attacked the site, even though it was clearly marked as a civilian shelter. Moscow rejects this accusation.

the mayor of MariupolVadym Boichenko said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces are doing everything possible to prevent further Russian forces from entering the besieged city.

In previous statements to the BBC, Boichenko described what is happening in that strategic port city in southeastern Ukraine which has been under siege by Russian troops for two weeks.

鈥淭here is nothing left of the city center. There is not a small piece of land in the city that does not have signs of war,鈥 she said.

more than 80% of buildings household are damaged or destroyedand 30% of them cannot be restored.


Mariupol鈥檚 mayor said Saturday that thousands of Mariupol residents have been sent to Russia.

In a message released through Telegram, Boychenko stated that while some of those who had fled the city were being redirected to remote locations in Russia, the fate of many others is still unknown.

Mariupol residents fleeing the city.
Getty Images
Thousands of Mariupol residents have fled the city through established evacuation routes.

鈥淲hat the occupiers are doing today is familiar to the older generation, who saw the horrible events of World War II, when the Nazis captured people by force. It is hard to imagine that in the 21st century people will be forcibly deported to another countryBoychenko said.

The BBC has not been able to independently confirm this claim.

Some 300,000 people are trapped inside Mariupol, where supplies of food and medicine are running out and humanitarian aid remains blocked by Russian forces.

conversations without delay

Three weeks after the Russian invasion, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, made a new call for withmeaningful peace and security talks 鈥渨ithout delay鈥 with Moscow.

鈥淭his is the only chance for Russia to reduce the damage of its own mistakes,鈥 Zelensky said in his speech broadcast on Saturday.

A woman in front of a damaged building in Mariupol
80% of residential buildings in Mariupol have been damaged, according to the mayor.

But hours before, in a large concentration in a stadium in Moscow attended by many government employees, according to the BBC, the Russian president Vladimir Putin delivered a speech celebrating progress in Ukraine.

鈥淲e know what we have to do next,鈥 he told the crowd. 鈥淒efinitely We鈥檒l carry out all the plans we鈥檝e made鈥.

theater survivors

Until this Friday they had rescued 130 survivors from the basement of the iconic Mariupol theater, according to President Zelensky.

At the same time, the city council said that rescuers had found one seriously injured person, but no deaths were known.

A children鈥檚 hospital in the city was also attacked.

Yulia Yashenko was sheltering with her parents in the theater, but they left for the city of Lviv the night before the bombing.

鈥淭he city is being wiped off the face of the earth鈥the 28-year-old told the BBC.

鈥淥ur house was burned by the artillery. They shoot all over the city, every weapon is used. There is black smoke everywhere. There are bodies everywhere and there is no one to pick them up, 鈥漢e lamented.

鈥淚t鈥檚 just [por cuestiones de] destiny that we are alive鈥. We could have died at any time. It should not be like that. Tell the world what鈥檚 going on,鈥 he added.

Yulia Yashenko
Yulia Yashenko and her mother in Lviv.

DI enter the theater

Kate, 38, and her 17-year-old son, they spent 10 days in the basement of the theater after his house was destroyed by Russian attacks.

Mother and son were crammed into the building鈥檚 dark rooms, hallways, and foyers with dozens of other families.

Some women, he explained, they carried babies less than six months. They slept on makeshift beds made from the soft parts of the auditorium seats spread out on the floor.

The wooden parts of the seats were cut down and used as firewood for cooking. For hours the buildings around the theater were gradually damaged or destroyed.

鈥淲e knew we had to flee because something terrible would happen soonKate told the BBC. A day before the attack, she and her son also fled the scene.

鈥淲e got into a car while the theater and area were shelled,鈥 despite the fact that the site was clearly marked as a civilian shelter, with the Russian word 鈥渃hildren鈥 written on the ground in large letters.

鈥淭he first day after I managed to get out, I couldn鈥檛 speak. We all cried. But now we have no tears left. I don鈥檛 think this pain will ever go away.鈥

The ordeal to escape

President Zelensky said Russian shelling prevented city authorities from establishing effective humanitarian corridors into the besieged city.

In long lines of vehicles and people, civilians have to pass through at least a dozen troop checkpoints Russian to flee from Mariupol.

It is estimated that there are still more than 300,000 civilians trapped in the port city.

鈥淲e remind certain Western leaders again that this will be a moral defeat for them鈥nless Ukraine does not receive advanced weapons,鈥 Zelensky said.

Russian troops between a line of vehicles in Mariupol
The Russians control the exits of the city.

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera says Western officials have seen confrontations have reached a stalemate in recent daysbut with 鈥渟ome pretty fierce fighting鈥 in the disputed areas.

鈥淭he failure of Russia鈥檚 original plan had led to a change in its approach. It forced them to have to reorganize and regroup,鈥 Corera quoted the officials as saying.

One of the sources says that Russian forces have 鈥渁n enormous amount of artillery ammunition鈥 that could allow them to mount a 鈥渂ombing鈥 lasting weeks or even longer.

Mariupol 鈥渞emains isolated,鈥 albeit with 鈥渟trong resistance from the Ukrainians,鈥 a senior US defense official said in a press release.

鈥淲e continue to see heavy shelling there. The Ukrainians are defending the city,鈥 he adds.

A tank of the Russian side in Mariupol
Russian troops and allied groups still have a lot of artillery power.

Mariupol, a symbol of civilian suffering

Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent, Kyiv

For the past two days, rescue teams have been pulling people out of the remains of the Mariupol theater.

The elegant building, a cultural landmark, is now in ruins, but its underground bunker is believed to have sheltered more than 1,000 people, mainly women and children, who took refuge there.

Ukraine鈥檚 President Volodymr Zelensky has now confirmed that 130 survivors have recovered, but hundreds more remain trapped.

He accused Russia of deliberately throwing a bomb at the theater, which Moscow denies.

But Russian forces have shelled and surrounded Mariupol for weeks, keeping desperately needed aid from getting in and people from leaving.

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