The only international journalists left in Mariupol

By | March 21, 2022

Mstyslav Chernov reports:

I knew Russian forces would see the eastern port city of Mariupol as a strategic prize because of its location on the Sea of Azov. So on the evening of Feb. 23, I headed there with my long-time colleague Evgeniy Maloletka, a Ukrainian photographer for The Associated Press, in his white Volkswagen van.

On the way, we started worrying about spare tires, and found online a man nearby willing to sell to us in the middle of the night. We explained to him and to a cashier at the all-night grocery store that we were preparing for war. They looked at us like we were crazy.

We pulled into Mariupol at 3:30 a.m. The war started an hour later.

About a quarter of Mariupol’s 430,000 residents left in those first days, while they still could. But few people believed a war was coming, and by the time most realized their mistake, it was too late.

One bomb at a time, the Russians cut electricity, water, food supplies and finally, crucially, the cell phone, radio and television towers. The few other journalists in the city got out before the last connections were gone and a full blockade settled in.

The absence of information in a blockade accomplishes two goals.

Chaos is the first. People don’t know what’s going on, and they panic. At first I couldn’t understand why Mariupol fell apart so quickly. Now I know it was because of the lack of communication.

Impunity is the second goal. With no information coming out of a city, no pictures of demolished buildings and dying children, the Russian forces could do whatever they wanted. If not for us, there would be nothing.

That’s why we took such risks to be able to send the world what we saw, and that’s what made Russia angry enough to hunt us down.

I have never, ever felt that breaking the silence was so important.

The deaths came fast. On Feb. 27, we watched as a doctor tried to save a little girl hit by shrapnel. She died.

A second child died, then a third. Ambulances stopped picking up the wounded because people couldn’t call them without a signal, and they couldn’t navigate the bombed-out streets.

The doctors pleaded with us to film families bringing in their own dead and wounded, and let us use their dwindling generator power for our cameras. No one knows what’s going on in our city, they said. [Continue reading…]

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