Bombing of the Mariupol theater: almost impossible to draw up a balance sheet

More than 10 days after the bombardment of the Mariupol theater, the fate of the hundreds of civilians who had taken refuge there is still unknown: faulty communications and the absence of local authorities make the mission almost impossible, explained to AFP an elected municipal official from this port in south-eastern Ukraine besieged by Russian forces.

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• Read also: 300 feared dead in Mariupol theater strike

Katerina Sukhomlynova, who managed to flee the city the same day of this bombardment, on March 16, also considered that the city should have been better prepared for the war, in a telephone interview from Ivano-Frankivsk, in the west of Ukraine, where she fled with her daughter and two nieces.

The Mariupol town hall, citing witnesses, said on Friday it feared that around 300 people died in the bombardment of the theater where hundreds of people had taken shelter. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told him on March 18 that more than 130 people had been saved, without estimating the number of dead.

Ms Sukhomlynova, who was in Mariupol as a volunteer as a first-aid worker, stresses, however, that it is “very difficult to count the dead” and recalls that the fate of the 400 civilians who were in an art school bombed on 20 March.

According to her, it is certain that the overall death toll in her city, besieged by Russian forces since the end of February, is much higher than the figure of more than 2,000 killed so far given by the town hall.

“There are no communications with Mariupol. There is network from time to time in some places, it is difficult to pick up. And any manipulation with a phone is dangerous, it can be considered suspicious by both sides. You can’t photograph anything,” she explains.

When the war started, this chosen one was part of the teams that brought first aid to injured civilians and transferred them to hospitals. But as the bombardment intensified, the task became increasingly difficult.

The left bank districts of the city, the most affected, were cut off from the center and the transfer of the wounded became impossible.

Confirming other testimonies from civilians who fled Mariupol collected by AFP, the elected spoke of the corpses strewn on the streets and the ordeal of civilians holed up in shelters, starving and forced to melt the snow to hydrate.

“People were calling out to me hysterically, asking me ‘Why don’t we bury them?’ And I would say, ‘If I take care of the dead, the living that I can help will die’”.

“It’s more than a humanitarian disaster, it’s much scarier, people can’t meet the most basic needs. There is no water, no electricity, there are no pipes (…) Getting the excrement out of the shelters is complicated, just like fetching water from the wells, it’s too risky under the bombs”.

When it was still possible, she distributed leaflets to civilians to inform them of what was happening in the country and in town.

The lack of communications which then set in “helps the occupants”, who can tell the inhabitants that the capital Kyiv has been taken and that they have been “abandoned”.

Kateryna Sukhomlynova also accuses the town hall of having “done nothing” to prepare Mariupol for war, while this strategic port on the Sea of ​​Azov has been on the front line since 2014, when the conflict between Kyiv and Kyiv began. pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“I insisted with the municipal council that we list the shelters and that we prepare the sanitary kits. Nobody listened to me, I was accused of creating panic. Nothing has been planned for civil protection,” she says.

She also ensures that the mayor and his deputies left the city in early March, information relayed by other volunteers, but not verified by an independent source.

Contacted by AFP, the spokesperson for the mayor of Mariupol was unreachable.

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