Andrei is busy burying dead neighbors in a makeshift grave on the side of the road in front of a bombed-out apartment block. Natalia wonders if her own house is still standing, while a family worries about how long their dwindling food supply could hold up.
Sunday is another day of terror and confusion in the port city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, which has seen the heaviest bombing and fighting since Russia launched its invasion on February 24.
Pausing with his shovel, Andrei said that the neighbors he was burying were not killed by Russian shells or grenades, but by illnesses aggravated by the heavy stress of the past few weeks after being unable to get medical help. had died.
“The bomb didn’t hit them, but that’s all… the situation – the basement, the lack of physical activity, the stress, the cold too,” he said.
Many dead bodies were lying around with dirty blankets. Some people passed by carrying their belongings in plastic bags or cardboard boxes. A boy pushes a supermarket trolley behind a bombed-out car.
Andrei said he and his friends were advised by the Ukrainian military to store the bodies in a cold cellar, but it was already full of people taking refuge from Russian artillery and missile attacks.
“I hope there will be some kind of revival and it is only temporary,” he said, pointing to the hole in the ground.
Local officials say some 400,000 people have been stranded in the strategic port city on the Sea of Azov for more than two weeks, with no access to water, food, heating or electricity.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that Russia’s siege of Mariupol was “a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come”.
Russia’s defense ministry on Sunday blamed “Ukrainian nationalists” for the “humanitarian devastation” in Mariupol and gave the city until early Monday to surrender. The TASS news agency reported that 59,000 people had been evacuated from Mariupol in the past three days.
Sitting in a basement that has now been his home for 11 days, Irina Chernenko, a librarian at the university, said she didn’t know how long they could survive like this.
“We hope for the best – to live as humans. The apartment block is destroyed, everything is destroyed. Where can we go from the basement?” he said.
“We are cooking over the fire. For now we have some food and some firewood. In a week we will have nothing, no food at all.”
Parts of the city are controlled by the Russian military and some are under Ukrainian control, so residents do not know the fate of relatives living in other districts.
Natalia, a kindergarten worker, said she is staying with her children and cannot return to her flat across town.
“There is no news, no information. Everything is ruined… We don’t know how we will live now.”