from the first bombings to a fall that “seems inevitable”, how Mariupol descended into chaos

More than forty days of intense bombing and fierce fighting. The city of Mariupol, on the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov in southeastern Ukraine, is a major target for Russian and separatist forces. Both a strategic port and a symbolic point in Vladimir Putin’s war, Mariupol resists at all costs, despite the bombs and tragedies that have occurred since the beginning of the siege. Franceinfo reviews the great events that have marked this martyred and almost completely destroyed city.

A quickly established seat

Mariupol is a Russian-speaking city of about 450,000 inhabitants. This strategic port now constitutes “the last lock that the Russians must break before the total occupation of southern and eastern Ukraine”, summarizes Carole Grimaud-Potter, professor of geopolitics from Russia. Therefore, its conquest would allow the Russians to consolidate their territorial gains and connect Crimea, annexed in 2014, to the Donbass.

“Marioupol is also a high place for the Azov battalion, this group designated as neo-Nazi by Moscow, which is the enemy to beat”adds journalist Luc Lacroix, correspondent for France 2 in Moscow and special envoy to Ukraine.

“The capture of Mariupol would be a double victory for Russia: against the Azov battalion and the capture of one of the largest cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.”

Luc Lacroix, reporter

in france info

Very quickly, Russian forces and pro-Russian separatists concentrated their attacks on Mariupol. On March 1, ‘Half the city doesan more electricity and communications become bad”says a resident of RFI. The next day, the situation deteriorates. “from hour to hour”, according to a resident to AFP. The shops lack water and food, public transport is stopped… On March 3, the mayor of the city, Vadym Boïtchenko, assures that the Russians and the separatists “They destroyed bridges and trains to prevent us from taking out our women, children and the elderly. They are preventing us from getting supplies. They are trying to blockade us.”.

trapped civilians

Besieged, civilians had no choice but to take cover, hoping that a lull would allow them to flee the fighting. His situation fuels tensions during negotiations between the belligerents and countries like France and Turkey that seek to mediate.

Moscow first puts on the table the creation of humanitarian corridors for civilians… towards Russia and Belarus. A judged proposal “completely immoral” for Kyiv. Pro-Russian forces accuse Ukraine of holding civilians “in the villages” to serve you “directly and indirectly, including as a human shield, which of course is a war crime”reports The Figaro.

The first mass evacuations finally took place in early April. Aboard buses and private cars, more than 3,000 people managed to leave the city and reach Zaporizhia, 230 km to the northwest, in unsecured convoys. At the scene, France Télévisions reporter Maryse Burgot meets refugees traumatized by the violence they have witnessed.

Among the civilians who managed to get out of the hell of Mariupol there are children marked forever by the scenes of war. “The children seem to have become accustomed to the bombings and the cloistered life”points out a pediatrician from Zaporizhia interviewed by The world : “The symptoms are mild – diarrhoea, vomiting – but mostly it is the fear that is palpable. They often refuse to take blood tests.”

A blow to a motherhood that outrages

On March 9, he put Mariupol on the map of Ukraine for world public opinion. In the early afternoon, a powerful explosion devastated three buildings. Quickly, the Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region announced that the medical structures in Mariupol had been affected. From the videos posted on social networks, the France Télévisions image verification unit identifies the place of the powerful detonation: the city’s municipal hospital No. 3, which houses a pediatric hospital and a maternity.

Images of stunned victims, including pregnant women, go around the world. After an initial evaluation of 17 wounded, the municipality announces that three people died in the bombings, including a child.

International reactions are unanimous. “This bombing at the Mariupol maternity hospital is inhumane, appalling, cruel and tragic”says Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, about franceinfo. Emmanuel Macron condemns for his part “with the greatest firmness” Y “undignified act of war”while the UN reminds that health facilities in Ukraine should not “never be a target”.

On the Moscow side, we brandish the “fake news” card. The Russian Army claims that “The alleged airstrike is a total scenario created for the purpose of provoking to maintain the anti-Russian agitation of the Western public”, arguing in particular that an influencer was paid to play the false victim. What a careful observation of the scene allows to deny.

Luc Lacroix and his team were not in this maternity ward, but in another, still standing, where several babies have been born since the beginning of the siege. He has strong memories of this report and his encounter with a woman who had just given birth: “She told us that she felt guilty of giving birth to a child of war”.

A theater housing civilians razed to the ground

A week later, on March 16, the city’s Dramatic Theater is bombed. In the afternoon, Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, publishes shocking photos before and after the explosion. We see thick white smoke rising from the building that is not next to another, raising questions about the possibility of a misfire.

The local authorities fear the worst, since the building serves as a refuge for more than one “a thousand people”, according to the city council. A photo of the theater, consulted and analyzed by AFP, shows that the word “kids” it was written on the pavement, in big white letters and in Russian, on the front and back of the building. A description confirmed by a satellite snapshot, taken on March 14, and shared by the American space technology company Maxar Technologies.

The word

Inside The world, a theater director, Lioudmyla Kolossovytch, who was able to flee the city, tells the stories of her collaborators who remained there. “It was pretty well organized. About sixty theater employees had taken refuge there and helped the volunteers. Stage costumes were handed out to those who were cold. The stages and the backs of the spectator seats were burned to keep warm.” One of his former collaborators detailed how he was able to escape from the compound. “She told me: ‘You can’t imagine, I had to step on corpses!'”

After the attack, Joe Biden accuses Vladimir Putin of being a “war criminal”. As for the attack on the maternity ward, Russia denies being behind it and blames the Azov battalion. According to the Mariupol authorities, three hundred people died under the rubble of the theater. Impossible to establish a precise assessment, says Luc Lacroix, who could enterbecause the Russian and separatist forces “They have denied access to basements in us saying it was for our safety”.

One last battle at the Azovstal factory

After forty days of siege, the city is devastated. The living conditions of the inhabitants, who survived and whose neighborhoods were taken over by Russian and pro-Russian forces, are improving somewhat. “You can leave your houses”points out Luc Lacroix.

“The fighting is a little further away and although there is still no water, electricity or heating, the food aid arrives in boxes marked with the Z of the Russian offensive and is distributed.”

Luc Lacroix, reporter

in france info

The port appears to have come under the control of pro-Russian separatists from Donetsk and more than a thousand “Ukrainian soldiers voluntarily laid down their arms and surrendered”the Russian Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday. qualified information “Russian propaganda” by the deputy mayor of the city.

The last Ukrainian forces are entrenched in the huge Azovstal factory, located by the sea, with several underground levels. “There would be between 2,000 and 3,000 resisting and circulating through this labyrinth, but they are completely isolated from the rest of the Ukrainian forces”Luc Lacroix believes. Pounded by bombing, these buildings, built in the Soviet era in solid concrete, seem impossible to raze.

“The Russian army and the pro-Russian forces, therefore, advance building by building, there is a lot of street fighting with automatic weapons.”

Luc Lacroix, reporter

in france info

After more than a month of heavy shelling and fighting, more than 20,000 people were killed in Mariupol during the offensive, according to regional authorities. “We totally ignore the results of this battle, no one can know.temper Luc Lacroix. Obviously there were deaths, but you have to be very modest with what you see and what you know. No one can have a global vision of the situation.” One thing is certain, concludes the France 2 journalist, “the city is practically taken, its fall seems inevitable”.

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