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From the file

Mariupol | Two atrocities in the port city of Mariupol epitomise Russia’s violence in Ukraine. This is the story of those atrocities and of Mariupol’s truth

Mandatory Credit: Photo by EyePress News/Shutterstock (12873665e) A view of destruction of the city of besieged Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine on Saturday March 26, 2022. There is mounting evidence of mass graves in the besieged city of Mariupol, official of the UN human rights team currently in Ukraine said on Friday, as Russia hinted it was scaling back its invasion to focus on eastern Ukraine. Matilda Bogner, head of a UN human rights team currently in the country, said monitors had received information about graves in the southeastern port city, including one that appeared to hold 200 bodies. The claims of mass graves in the city came as Ukraine said it feared around 300 people had been killed in the Mariupol theatre bombing on 16 March Besieged Mariupol Destruction, Ukraine – 26 Mar 2022
The siege of Mariupol

The siege of Mariupol

Mandatory Credit: Photo by EyePress News/Shutterstock (12873665e) A view of destruction of the city of besieged Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine on Saturday March 26, 2022. There is mounting evidence of mass graves in the besieged city of Mariupol, official of the UN human rights team currently in Ukraine said on Friday, as Russia hinted it was scaling back its invasion to focus on eastern Ukraine. Matilda Bogner, head of a UN human rights team currently in the country, said monitors had received information about graves in the southeastern port city, including one that appeared to hold 200 bodies. The claims of mass graves in the city came as Ukraine said it feared around 300 people had been killed in the Mariupol theatre bombing on 16 March Besieged Mariupol Destruction, Ukraine – 26 Mar 2022

Images of a city fighting for survival

Content warning: This photo essay includes upsetting images, including death.

Mariupol was always going to be in Vladimir Putin’s sights. Not only is it a major port, it is sandwiched between two of Russia’s previous land grabs – to the West is the Russian occupied Crimean peninsula; to the east is Donetsk, the supposed “people’s republic” controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Take Mariupol, make a landbridge and gain vital access to the Black Sea.

Russia began its assault on Mariupol on 24 February, along with the rest of Ukraine, but ramped it up into a full-on siege on 2 March. Since then Russia has made considerable gains, thanks in part to increasingly brutal tactics which have plunged the city’s citizens into a situation that Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has described as “inhuman”. After announcing that civilians would be allowed to escape via safe routes, Russia then bombed them as they attempted to flee. Many of the buildings have been reduced to rubble. There has been one alleged use of chemical weapons. At the time of publication, the last of Mariupol’s defenders were sheltering in a steel factory, with Vladimir Putin ordering his forces to blockade them “so that not even a fly comes through”. 

This photo essay is the story of Russia’s siege of Mariupol – a study of brutality and of defiance.

A column of Russian tanks proceeds northwards along the Mariupol-Donetsk highway. The “Z” they’re marked with has become a symbol of support for Russia’s war

An explosion is seen in an apartment building as a Russian tank fires upon it. The siege of Mariupol has seen heavy attacks on the civilian population
Ukrainian officials claimed less than a month into the war that 80 per cent of residential buildings, like the one depicted here, had been destroyed
Marina Yatsko (left) and her boyfriend Fedor (centre) rush their 18-month-old son Kirill to a hospital in Mariupol. Their child was killed by Russian shelling
Anastasia Erashova with her only surviving child in the corridor of a Mariupol hospital. Her two other children were killed by Russian shelling
New mothers are tended to in a maternity hospital also being used as both an emergency medical ward and a bomb shelter
A pregnant woman is carried from a recently shelled maternity hospital. Russia targeted Mariupol’s Children’s Hospital and Maternity Ward No 3 on 9 March
Four people were killed and at least 17 injured in the attack on the maternity hospital
Mariana Vishegirskaya survived the shelling of the maternity hospital, later giving birth to a baby girl in another hospital in Mariupol
Dead bodies are put into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol. Russian shelling has prevented Mariupol’s citizens from burying their dead as they usually would
Serhii cries over his son Iliya’s lifeless body in a maternity hospital converted into an emergency medical ward. The civilian death toll within Mariupol is currently unknown, but the mayor Vadym Boychenko estimated that it could be over 20,000
A police officer with the covered bodies of people killed by shelling at a hospital in Mariupol
Aerial footage released by the Azov Battalion of Ukraine‘s National Guard showing Russian tanks being destroyed as they attempt to enter Mariupol. On 11 April the battalion alleged that Russia carried out a chemical weapons attack on the city
Children being evacuated from Mariupol. There have been several instances of humanitarian corridors being agreed between the two sides, only for Russia to then bomb the fleeing Ukrainians
A Russian officer addresses crowds awaiting humanitarian aid at a distribution centre on the outskirts of Mariupol

Evacuees wait on a bus in Zaporizhzhia, where many of Mariupol’s civilians have fled
A pro-Russian separatist searches a civilian at a check point in Mariupol
Civilians attempting to evacuate Mariupol have been prevented by Russian and pro-Russian soldiers

Drone footage has helped to capture the scale of the destruction in Mariupol
Buses lined up by Ukraine’s Azov Battalion to impede the Russian advance

Satellite images of the Mariupol Drama Theatre, used as a shelter for hundreds of Ukrainian civilians, taken before (right) and after (left) it was bombed by Russian forces. In the image on the right, the Russian word for “children” is written in large white in front of and behind the theatre – an attempt to prevent it becoming a target

Mariupol’s heavily shelled streets are now lined with makeshift graves. There have also been reports of bodies lying unburied for days

Just two months ago, Mariupol looked much like any other modern European city. Now civilians walk among its burned out remains
Many of Mariupol’s residents have been made homeless by Russia’s attacks. It’s estimated that ten million Ukrainians have become homeless since the invasion began on 24 February
Drone footage released by the far-right paramilitary Azov Battalion, showing an area almost completely destroyed by Russian bombardment

A woman arrives at an evacuation point as part of a large convoy of cars and buses carrying hundreds of evacuees from Mariupol and Melitopol, a nearby city now under Russian occupation
Up to a dozen bodies lie in the centre of a crater acting as a mass grave – one of many across the city. Matilda Bogner, head of a UN human rights team in Ukraine, said it had received information that one mass grave in Mariupol appeared to hold 200 bodies
Pro-Russian soldiers from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), carry an injured fellow soldier on a stretcher. The Russian-backed DNR is a disputed breakaway region that declared itself independent from Ukraine in 2014. Its soldiers have been heavily involved in the siege of Mariupol
Despite attempts to evacuate, tens of thousands residents remain trapped in the city
A destroyed Russian tank lies amidst rubble in the north of Mariupol. It’s believed that Russia has lost over 400 tanks during its invasion of Ukraine
Dead bodies lie on the route to Mariupol’s steelworks, where the last of the city’s Ukrainian soldiers are now sheltering
A Russian soldier inside the Mariupol drama theatre, almost a month after it was bombed by a Russian airstrike. To note: this picture was taken during a trip organised by the Russian military
A Ukrainian woman talks to a Russian soldier at a food distribution arranged by the Russian army. To note: this picture was taken during a trip organised by the Russian military.
An avenue of Mariupol on that’s been almost entirely destroyed by Russian forces. To note: this picture was taken during a trip organised by the Russian military
A woman and her child in a Russian-controlled area of Mariupol. Russian troops have made considerable gains in the city since the siege began. To note: this picture was taken during a trip organised by the Russian military
The Mariupol drama theatre after being bombed by Russian forces on 16 March. To note: this picture was taken during a trip organized by the Russian military
An aerial view of the city of Mariupol. The city’s mayor has claimed that 90 per cent of the city’s buildings have been destroyed, with 40 per cent unrecoverable

Photographs by Maximilian Clarke/SOPA Images/LightRocket, Andrey Borodulin/AFP, Alexander Nemenov/AFP, Leon Klein/Anadolu Agency, Chris McGrath/Getty Images, Bulent Kilic/AFP, Evgeniy Maloletka/AP/Shutterstock, Mstyslav Chernov/AP/Shutterstock