LVIV, Ukraine – After helping a friend calm the bleeding from a shrapnel wound Tuesday morning during another bombardment in Mariupol, Anastasia Kushnir and her family decided it was time to grab the chance to get out of the beleaguered coastal town, where they had been struggling to stay alive for three weeks.
“There was heavy shelling and aerial bombardment,” said Ms Kushnir, who is 21. “But we got through it, luckily.”
Mrs. Kushnir and her family members traveled as far as Urzuf, a small seaside town on the Sea of Azov 28 miles from Mariupol, a way station on their way further north and west towards the security. A journey that usually takes 30 minutes took five hours as their car joined a convoy of thousands of others trying to leave after waiting weeks for a humanitarian corridor to open.
About 160 cars left on Monday and about 4,000 cars, or 20,000 people, left the city on Tuesday, city officials said. Ms Kushnir said she saw stalled cars along the road: many had run out of gas, which she said was almost impossible to find in the area.
But still, she said in an interview, she was relieved to be out of Mariupol and away from the constant shelling.
“Humanitarian corridors were partially opened today,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech on Tuesday. “Little by little, people are leaving the besieged city by private transport.” However, he lamented that “a humanitarian cargo convoy to Mariupol remains blocked. Several days in a row. »
About 2,000 vehicles had managed to escape the city by Tuesday afternoon, and another 2,000 were packed to leave before dark, Pyotr Andryushchenko, assistant to the mayor of Mariupol, told The New York Times during a briefing. ‘a telephone interview.
Officials told civilians hoping to leave to “delete all messengers and photos from phones” in case Russian soldiers tried to search for them for signs of support for Ukrainian forces.
Ms Kushnir said she and her family had already tried to leave, but places where a convoy was being organized were shelled. While they waited, she said, she and her family slept on the floor of a room with no electricity, no lights, no windows and no heating.
“There’s not a single apartment building left with windows in my neighborhood,” she said. After five days, they started to run out of food. Residents organized themselves into groups, with the men walking through the bombardment to find water and the women improvising outdoor cookers to make watery vegetable soups.
Temperatures dropped as low as 16 degrees Fahrenheit, Ms Kushnir said. “We had to drink tea all the time to keep us warm,” she said, adding that some elderly people died of cold and starvation.
As she was driving out of town, she saw bodies lying in the street, which authorities had failed to recover or bury.
“Dead people are not buried, they just rest where they died,” she said. “There are a huge number of them.”
As some residents are crushed to rubble by the relentless Russian onslaught and others die in freezing conditions without heat, food or clean water, officials in the beleaguered coastal city of Mariupol are struggling to account for the number of dead and missing.
Officially, 2,400 civilians have been killed in the city, but Mr Andryushchenko said he believed the toll was much higher.
“We have inaccurate data on civilians killed,” he said in an interview with Current Time, a Ukrainian radio station. He said the official figure represented a “small handful” of people killed and estimated the true total could be as high as 20,000.
A battlefield since the first hours of the war, Mariupol is under an increasingly relentless assault that is wreaking indescribable devastation. Ukrainian estimates of the number of civilians trapped in the city range from 200,000 to 400,000, with the latest estimate being 300,000.
The region’s top official, Pavlo Kyrylenko, who until the declaration of martial law was its governor, announced that the Russians were also holding doctors and patients at the main intensive care hospital hostage. About 400 people are inside.
“It’s impossible to get out of the hospital,” Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram, quoting a message from one of the facility’s employees. “They shoot hard, we sit in the basement. The cars have not been able to get to the hospital for two days. High-rise buildings are burning around.
Battered by Russian bombardment, the city was overwhelmed by the wounded and dead. Videos shared on Telegram showed residents of the Cheryomushki neighborhood burying a body in a yard. Another video showed how locals turned a post office building into a makeshift morgue, with “MORGUE” spray-painted in large Cyrillic letters outside the building’s ground floor.
“Here in this building of the new post office in Cheryomushki they are piling up corpses which they will bury themselves in the future,” a man can be heard saying in the video he posted on the Telegram channel. Mariupol Now.
Russian forces have dropped more than 100 bombs within the city limits, according to a Telegram report from the Mariupol City Council, destroying almost all basic services, even as they battle Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of the metropolis .
The Kremlin said Ukrainian forces are keeping people trapped in the city. The Ukrainian government says repeated attempts at a mass evacuation failed as they were attacked by Russian forces.
Ukraine’s army high command said on Tuesday that its forces had successfully repelled the latest Russian attempt to enter the city, claiming to have destroyed two tanks, seven infantry fighting vehicles and an armored personnel carrier . “After the losses, the occupiers stopped the offensive and retreated,” the Ukrainian military said.
The Ukrainians noted that their forces also suffered casualties. It is almost impossible to independently verify almost all information coming out of Mariupol, as almost all lines of communication have been cut.
Mr. Andryushchenko, the city government adviser, declined to comment in his telephone interview with The Times on whether he and the mayor would evacuate the city. The mayor’s safety would likely be a concern: Russian forces have kidnapped the mayor of nearby Melitopol and installed a replacement.
“We sincerely hope for the safety of our mayor and that our defenders will help guarantee it,” Andryushchenko said. “We know for sure that he will not accept the Russian occupation under any circumstances, will not cooperate with the occupiers and will not recognize any occupying authority.”
But he was also at a loss for words when thinking about the city’s future. He estimated that 80% of the residential stock was destroyed. “What kind of town can this be?”
Ms. Kushnir, a model, described the lingering fear of being there for three weeks: “Every day is like a new birth. In other words, you don’t know whether you’re going home or not.
After arriving in Urzuf, she had her first proper meal in weeks. But her mind was busy with pressing new questions, she said:
“How will it be possible to somehow get to a safe place in Ukraine? Where is it safe in this country? How will it be possible to go abroad, where it can be safe for us?