“There is nothing left of the city”: Russian troops arrive in Mariupol, devastated by bombing

“There 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.”

This is how the mayor of MariupolVadym Boichenko, describes to the BBC what is happening in that strategic port city in southeastern Ukraine which has been under siege by Russian troops for two weeks.

“Tank and machine gun fighting continues,” Boichenko said on Friday.

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

Three weeks after the Russian invasion, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, made a new call for withmeaningful peace and security talks “without delay” with Moscow.

“This is the only chance for Russia to reduce the damage of its own mistakes,” Zelensky said in his speech broadcast on Friday.

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, at a large rally in a stadium in Moscow attended by many government employees, as the BBC was able to verify, the Russian president Vladimir Putin delivered a speech celebrating progress in Ukraine.

“We know what we have to do next,” he told the crowd. “Definitely We’ll carry out all the plans we’ve made“.

theater survivors

Earlier, Zelensky reported that as of this Friday, rescued 130 survivors from the basement of the iconic Mariupol Regional Drama Theater that was attacked.

But he assured that hundreds more remained trapped.

The civilians were there when Russia bombed the theater on Wednesday.

The city council said rescuers had so far found one seriously injured person, but no deaths were known.

A children’s 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.

“The city is being wiped off the face of the earth”the 28-year-old told the BBC.

“Our 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, ”he lamented.

“It is only fate that we are alive…. We could have died at any time. It should not be like that. Tell the world what’s going on,” 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’s 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.

“We 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.

“We got into a car while the theater and area were shelled,” despite the fact that the site was clearly marked as a civilian shelter, with the Russian word “children” written on the ground in large letters.

“The first day after I managed to get out, I couldn’t speak. We all cried. But now we have no tears left. I don’t think this pain will ever go away.”

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.

“We remind certain Western leaders again that this will be a moral defeat for them…unless Ukraine does not receive advanced weapons,” 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 “some pretty fierce fighting” in the disputed areas.

“The failure of Russia’s original plan had led to a change in its approach. It forced them to have to reorganize and regroup,” Corera quoted the officials as saying.

One of the sources says that Russian forces have “an enormous amount of artillery ammunition” that could allow them to mount a “bombing” lasting weeks or even longer.

Mariupol “remains isolated,” albeit with “strong resistance from the Ukrainians,” a senior US defense official said in a press release.

“We continue to see heavy shelling there. The Ukrainians are defending the city,” 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’s 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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