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Story Publication logo March 15, 2022

Hundreds of Thousands of Ukrainians Remain Trapped in Mariupol Amid Russian Siege


Ukraine refugees flee to Hungary

The Pulitzer Center is partnering with "PBS NewsHour" to bring viewers the kind of reporting...


While Russian troops push closer to Kyiv, they are making the most progress in southern Ukraine. Moscow claimed to have seized all the area around the city of Kherson and continued to starve and strangle the city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped without food, water or electricity. Nick Schifrin reports.

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Judy Woodruff: While Russian troops push closer to Kyiv, they are making the most progress in southern Ukraine. Today, Moscow claimed to have seized all the area around the strategic port city of Kherson, and Russians continue to strangle and starve Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, where Nick Schifrin begins his story.

Nick Schifrin: In this city without electricity, you need a flashlight to keep the faith. A Turkish imam calls the congregation to prayer.They are all trapped in Mariupol. The faithful still here number only a few. And, as Mehmet Yuce finishes, the shelling is close enough to feel.

Mehmet Yuce, Imam of Mariupol (through translator): Right now, our mosque is in the city of Mariupol, the place where we prayed every Friday until now, despite minor damage to mirrors, windows, exterior doors. This is the most adored, accepted building by the people of the region. It is seen as the most beautiful building in our city.

Nick Schifrin: But as they leave to an uncertain future, their beautiful city burns. For 20 days, Moscow's made Mariupol's apartment blocks its battlefield of choice. For two weeks, residents have had no food, water, or electricity. And so medics work by flashlight on victims barely old enough to understand. It is impossible to understand for their parents. Anastasiya holds onto one child especially tight, because her other child was killed.

Anastasiya Erashova, Mariupol Resident (through translator): I don't know where to run to. Who will bring back our children? Who?

Nick Schifrin: What will happen to the hundreds of thousands of residents in Mariupol who are still trapped in the city if that humanitarian aid isn't allowed to get in?

Sergei Orlov, Deputy Mayor of Mariupol, Ukraine: The truth answer, that we would — they will die by hundreds of thousands each day, because we do not have more food, more water. We are dying.

Nick Schifrin: Sergei Orlov is Mariupol's deputy mayor. He sent us photos of his city's destruction, the row of homes, the gutted hospital, the damaged car, despite the sign in the corner that says "Children On Board."

Sergei Orlov: A lot of mothers call, and they are just saying: Hello, I have a baby on my arms. He is dying without food. What should I do?

Nick Schifrin: After we spoke, Russian troops occupied this hospital, trapped civilians in the basement, and forced doctors to treat injured Russian soldiers. Orlov estimates 5,000 to 7,000 residents have died, many buried in mass graves. What do you say; what do you think when you look at the images from your city right now?

Sergei Orlov: Terrible, angry, try to kill — who are ready to kill someone who is doing this, so no emotion, frozen heart.

Nick Schifrin: Today, what he hopes is a thaw. These humanitarian buses are still blocked, but Orlov says, yesterday and today, thousands of civilians managed to flee on informal escape routes.

Sergei Orlov: It's not safe, because there is no official negotiation and confirmation, but most of them were successful. But you should understand that they are going under shelling. They are going near mines.

Nick Schifrin: When they flee, they head West toward Zaporizhzhia. That's where Russia has already seized the nuclear plant. In all, the think-tank the Institute for the Study of War estimates Russia controls everything in dark pink. In Melitopol, Russians recently kidnapped the mayor. They are besieging Mykolaiv, and today announced total control over Kherson, where there is a normality of occupation. Russian vehicles drive by pedestrians going about their day. But there is also defiance. On Sunday, thousands of residents called Russians fascist occupiers. And after the gunfire, they yelled, "Go home while you're still alive." Mariupol is named for the Virgin Mary. And after Pope Francis called for the city's safety, a Ukrainian created this, mother Mary as protector, with the message, "We will not give up Mariupol." And so they didn't give up. These women are the survivors of last week's massive bomb that destroyed a maternity hospital. It was a tragedy. This woman and her unborn child later died. But it was also a miracle, because a pregnant woman who came so close to death this weekend birthed life, a relieved mother, a healthy baby named Alana. Another survivor, Mariana Vishegirskaya, last week walked herself to safety, before starting into the distance dazed. She too is now safe. They named their daughter Veronika. It means bringer of victory.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

Judy Woodruff: Just a moment of blessing. The "NewsHour"'s reporting on Ukraine is supported in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.



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