The carcasses of charred buildings stand against the low, rainy sky of the martyred city of Mariupol. As the last Ukrainian defenders surrender to the Russians, rare passers-by mourn their lost future.

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Three months of fighting left an apocalyptic landscape in many neighborhoods, driving hundreds of thousands of people to flight and causing an unknown, but undoubtedly enormous, number of deaths.

Here, the avenues belong to the Russian military and their separatist allies, who conquered them at the cost of destroying a port city that had more than half a million inhabitants before the battle.

AFP journalists observed the extent of the damage during a press trip organized by the Russian Defense Ministry.

On this May 18, we no longer hear the incessant cannonades of the previous weeks, because on the steel site of Azovstal, the last Ukrainian soldiers surrender. The Russian army, however, did not allow the media to approach the huge steel plant, which has become the symbol of fierce Ukrainian resistance.


Pro-Russian authorities promised to make Mariupol a resort town. A project difficult to imagine in this tangle of sheet metal and debris, bars of buildings gutted by missiles and shells.

With the end of the fighting, residents dare to go out in search of food. Those who speak show their despair for this city that Moscow says it has “liberated” from a neo-Nazi yoke.

Angela Kopytsa, bleached hair, hurries ahead of a military patrol. Then, she responds to AFP in Russian tinged with the characteristic accent of the Ukrainian region of Donetsk, which Russia considers an independent republic.

“What can I still hope for? What to say when the house is destroyed, when life is destroyed?”, says the 52-year-old former nursery nurse.

“There is no work, no food, no water. With the children, the grandson, we shared a spoon” of food, she continues, crying for the newborns “who died of hunger in the maternities”.


“What future? I no longer hope for anything, ”she concludes, before shedding tears and leaving at a run.

Elena Ilina, 55, worked as a professor at Mariupol Technical University, in the IT department. His apartment burned down, “nothing remains there”. She now lives with her daughter and son-in-law.

His only wish: to find his life before.

“I wish I could live in my apartment, in peacetime, chatting with my children,” she says. His voice breaks into a sob.

The Russian army then takes the journalists to the city zoo. Lions, bears and other beasts stand there in grim cages, but seem healthy.

Oksana Krichtafovitch, who was a cook in a hotel in Mariupol, explains that she was recruited to take care of the animals. At 41, a new life.

She feeds cattle, milks cows and knows that she is better off than others, because she is fed in exchange for this work.


“The restaurant in which I worked on the left bank is destroyed. I was there cook, now, my customers, it is them , she says while carrying a bowl in the cage of the raccoons.

Displaying a tiny bit of optimism, she notes that if Mariupol “lacks everything, you get used to it, you adapt, you survive”.

Sergei Pugatch, 60, works at the zoo as a caretaker.

Before the fighting, he worked on the railway lines of the Azovstal industrial complex, at the time the main employer of the city, now largely destroyed.

At the end of February, when Russia launched its offensive, he had only two months left before his retirement after 30 years of service. Now he does not know if he will ever receive his pension.

But no point in complaining.

“The Ukrainian people are not lazy people. As soon as it stopped shooting, people came out of the cellars and looked for work. Some are already working,” proudly proclaims Sergei.

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