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mass destruction ‘About 80 per cent of the city is gone. Bodies lie on the streets’ - driver describes 'hell' in Ukraine

Thousands still fleeing devastation of Mariupol – a city turned into ‘hell’


A woman reacts as she walks in front a block of shelled flats in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol. Photo: Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko

A woman reacts as she walks in front a block of shelled flats in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol. Photo: Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko

A woman reacts as she walks in front a block of shelled flats in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol. Photo: Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko

The family thought they had finally made it out of Mariupol after three weeks of siege, but their journey still had one final ordeal.

As the car drove through a Russian checkpoint while leaving the shattered city, soldiers ordered the men out of the car and told them to hand over their phones.

“My son, they told him to show him everything he had in his phone and they looked through all his things,” recalled Roman Konyahin.

“They took him away and put him near the wall. They were pointing guns at us all the time. I thought my life was over. Then they asked why my phone didn’t have any photos in it.

“I said, ‘I’ve been in a bomb shelter with no electricity or water, what do you want me to take a photo of?’

“I think they were looking for compromising material – like if I had something saying Putin is a d***.”

Mr Konyahin, a 55-year-old bus driver, said they had also asked his son to raise his shirt so they could check his body for incriminating tattoos.

Mr Konyahin said they were looking for nationalist or military symbols. Clips filmed at checkpoints and broadcast on Russian media also showed separatist militia members checking for tattoos.

Thousands of Mariupol residents continued their exodus yesterday, braving minefields, freezing weather and checkpoints to flee the ruins.

The southern port city has suffered the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the war as it has been cut off and pounded with artillery and air strikes.

Its position between eastern territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists on one side and the Crimean Peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 on the other makes it a key target for the Kremlin.

Mariupol’s city administration said that in the previous 48 hours, 6,500 cars had left, carrying around 30,000 people, arriving exhausted in nearby Zaporizhzhya.

Yesterday, the streets out of Mariupol were jammed with cars, many of them displaying signs declaring “children on board” in the windows. It remained unclear how long the humanitarian convoy might remain open.

Mariupol’s authorities said that after 16 days of siege, the situation was critical. A statement said more than 350,000 residents were still hiding in shelters and basements. “The destruction is enormous. According to preliminary estimates, about 80pc of the city’s housing stock is destroyed, of which almost 30pc cannot be repaired,” a statement said.

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Authorities claimed the city is being hit by 50 to 100 bombs each day. They have recorded more than 2,500 dead, although they estimate the real total may be closer to 20,000 because so many bodies are lying uncounted and unburied around the city.

Mr Konyahin said: “About 80pc of the city is gone. The neighbouring building was eight floors tall. It got shelled, and burned for four days. Bodies are lying on the street.”

Tamara Kavunenko (58) said: “They fire so many rockets. In the streets there are the bodies of many dead civilians. When the snow came, we collected it and melted it for water. When it didn’t, we boiled water from the river to drink. It’s not Mariupol any more. It’s hell.”

A man called Dima said he had not washed in two weeks and he had looted shops for food to feed his children and grandparents.

“We lived underground and if it was minus 4C it was a good temperature,” he said. “Sometimes bodies are in the street for three days. The smell is in the air and you don’t want your children to smell it.”

Refugees arriving at the car park of an out-of-town Zaporizhzhya cash and carry that has become the reception point for Mariupol refugees must also face checks from Ukrainian police.

Officers said they were checking that those arriving were not infiltrators or saboteurs trying to take advantage of the escaping convoy.

The Konyahin family’s arrival also meant they had access to phones and internet for the first time in more than a fortnight. His daughter, Kristina, cried as she spoke to her husband again .

British military intelligence said yesterday that the invasion had “largely stalled on all fronts” and Russian forces were suffering heavy losses amid stiff Ukrainian resistance.

The war has appeared to be settling into a grinding pattern of sieges of cities, with terrible consequences for civilians.

The United Nations said 3.2 million people have now fled Ukraine.

Elsewhere, the northern city of Chernihiv had experienced “colossal losses and destruction” during heavy bombardment from Russian artillery and air strikes, its governor said.

Viacheslav Chaus told Ukrainian TV that the bodies of 53 people “killed by the Russian aggressor from the ground or from the air” had been delivered to city morgues over the previous 24 hours.

The Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office said the previous day that 10 people were killed in Chernihiv while standing in line for bread. Russia has denied involvement.

Mr Chaus said: “The city has never known such nightmarish, colossal losses and destruction.”

Officials also said 21 people had been killed by artillery that destroyed a school and a community centre in Merefa, near Kharkiv. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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