From the first explosions to the seemingly inevitable fall, how Mariupol descended into chaos

More than forty days of heavy bombardment and fierce fighting. The town of Mariupol, located on the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov in southeastern Ukraine, is a major target of Russian and separatist forces. A strategic port and a symbolic point in the war led by Vladimir Putin, Mariupol resists at all costs, despite the bombs and tragedies that have occurred since the beginning of the siege. Franceinfo relives the major events of this martyred and almost completely destroyed city.

seat quickly

Mariupol is a Russian-speaking city with a population of 450,000. This is a strategic port now “The last lock to break the Russians before the complete occupation of southern and eastern Ukraine”, summarizes Carol Grimaux Potter, professor of political geography in Russia. Thus, its invasion will allow the Russians to consolidate their territorial gains and link Crimea, which was annexed in 2014, to Donbass.

Mariupol is also a high place for the Azov Battalion, this group that Moscow has designated as a neo-Nazi, the enemy that must be overcome.Adds journalist Luc Lacroix, France 2 correspondent in Moscow and special envoy to Ukraine.

“The capture of Mariupol will be a double victory for Russia: against the Azov battalion and the capture of one of the largest cities of the Donetsk and Luhansk states.”

Luc Lacroix, reporter

in franceinfo

Very quickly, Russian forces and pro-Russian separatists concentrated their attacks on Mariupol. on March 1 Half the city doto me More electricity and communications become bad.”, says an RFI resident. The next day, the situation worsened “from hour to hour”According to a resident of Agence France-Presse. Shops lack water and food, public transport is off … On March 3, the city’s mayor, Vadim Boychenko, assured us that the Russians and the separatists “Bridges and trains have been destroyed to prevent us from taking out our women, children and the elderly. They are preventing us from getting supplies. They are trying to impose a siege.”.

Civilians are trapped

The besieged civilians had no choice but to seek shelter, hoping that the truce would allow them to flee the fighting. Their situation is fueling tensions during negotiations between the belligerents and countries such as France and Turkey that seek to mediate.

Moscow puts on the table first the issue of creating humanitarian corridors for civilians … towards Russia and Belarus. tight proposal ‘Totally immoral’ by Kyiv. Pro-Russian forces accuse Ukraine of obstructing civilians “in the cities” and use it “Directly and indirectly, including using it as a human shield, which is of course a war crime.”reports Le Figaro.

The first mass evacuations finally took place in early April. On buses and private cars, more than 3,000 people managed to leave the city and reach Zaporizhia, 230 kilometers to the northwest, by unprotected caravans. At the site, France Télévisions reporter Marise Borgo meets refugees traumatized by the violence they witnessed.

Among the civilians who managed to leave the inferno of Mariupol, there are children who were invariably marked by war scenes. “The children seem to have gotten used to the bombing and the lonely life.”Meet a pediatrician from Zaporizhia, notes him the world : “Symptoms are mild – diarrhea and vomiting – but the fear is most noticeable. They often refuse blood tests.”

A blow to motherhood provokes resentment

March 9 put Mariupol on the map of Ukraine for world public opinion. In the early afternoon, a powerful explosion destroyed three buildings. Quickly, the Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region announced that the medical structures in Mariupol had been affected. From videos posted on social networks, France Télévisions’ image verification unit identifies the location of the powerful explosion: the city’s 3rd municipal hospital, which houses a children’s hospital and a maternity hospital.

Pictures of dazed victims, including pregnant women, are spreading around the world. After an initial assessment of the number of 17 wounded, the municipality announced that three people were killed in the bombing, including a child.

The international reaction was unanimous. “This bombing of the maternity hospital in Mariupol is inhuman, outrageous, cruel and tragic”, announces Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, on franceinfo. Emmanuel Macron condemns for his part ‘As firmly as possible’ a ‘An unworthy act of war’while the United Nations states that health facilities in Ukraine should not ‘You will never be a target’.

From the Moscow side, we brandish the “Fake News” card. The Russian army claims it “The alleged air raid is a whole stage designed for the purpose of provocation in order to maintain the anti-Russian ferment of the Western public”In particular, she argues, the influencer was paid to play the false victim. What a close observation of the scene allows is denial.

Luc Lacroix and his team were not present in this motherhood, but in another, still, since since the beginning of the siege many children have been born. He has strong memories of this report and his meeting with a woman who had just given birth: “She told us she felt guilty of giving birth to a war child.”

A theater housing civilians demolished to the ground

A week later, on March 16, the city’s drama theater was bombed. In the afternoon, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba posted amazing before and after photos of the explosion. We see thick white smoke rising from the building, which is not adjacent to others, which raises questions about the possibility of a shooting error.

The local authorities fear the worst, as the building serves as a haven for more than one “a thousand people”According to the town hall. A picture of the theater consulted and analyzed by AFP shows this word “children” It was written on the sidewalk in large white letters and in Russian on the facade and background of the building. Description confirmed by a satellite snapshot, taken on March 14, and shared by US space technology company Maxar Technologies.


at the world, theater director, Lioudmyla Kolossovytch, who managed to escape the city, tells the stories of her collaborators who stayed there. “It was well organized. About sixty theater employees took refuge there and helped volunteers. Stage costumes were distributed to those suffering from the cold. The theater groups were burned and the backs of the spectators’ seats were kept warm.” One of her former assistants explained to her how she managed to escape the fence. She said to me, ‘You can’t imagine, I had to trample on corpses! “

After the bombing, Joe Biden accuses Vladimir Putin of being a “A criminal of war”. As for the attack on the maternity ward, Russia denies that it is behind it and accuses the Azov battalion. According to the authorities of Mariupol, three hundred people died under the ruins of the theater. It is impossible to make an accurate assessment, assures Luc Lacroix, who managed to penetrate the interior, due to Russian and separatist forces They refused access to our cellars Saying it was for our safety”.

Final battle at the Azovstal plant

After forty days of siege, the city was destroyed. The living conditions of the residents, who survived and whose neighborhoods were controlled by Russian and pro-Russian forces, were slightly improved. ‘They can leave their homes’Luc Lacroix notes.

“The fighting is a bit far away, and even if there is no water, electricity or heating, food aid arrives in boxes marked with Z for the Russian attack and is distributed.”

Luc Lacroix, reporter

in franceinfo

The port appears to have been taken over by pro-Russian separatists from Donetsk and over a thousand “Ukrainian soldiers voluntarily laid down their arms and surrendered”The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday. Eligible information Russian propaganda By the city’s deputy mayor.

The last Ukrainian troops are entrenched in the huge Azovstal factory located by the sea, which includes several levels underground. “There will be between 2,000 and 3,000 resistance and going around in this maze, but they are completely isolated from the rest of the Ukrainian forces.”Luc Lacroix thought. These Soviet-era buildings constructed of solid concrete, after being bombarded with bombardment, seemed to be impossible to demolish.

“The Russian army and pro-Russian forces are advancing upon building, and there is a lot of fighting in the streets with automatic weapons fire.”

Luc Lacroix, reporter

in franceinfo

After more than a month of heavy bombing and fighting, more than 20,000 people were killed in Mariupol during the offensive, according to regional authorities. “We completely ignore the results of this battle and no one knows.Fury Luc Lacroix. Obviously there have been deaths, but you have to be very humble about what you see and what you know. Nobody can have a comprehensive view of the situation.” One thing is for sure, concludes the journalist from France 2, “City Practically taken away, his downfall seems inevitable.”.

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