Bombed-out city in northern Ukraine fears becoming ‘next Mariupol’
“In the basements, at night, everyone talks about one thing: Chernihiv becomes (the) next Mariupol,” said Ihar Kazmerchak, a 38-year-old resident who specializes in linguistics.
He spoke to The Associated Press by cellphone, amid incessant beeps that his battery was dying. The city is without electricity, without running water and without heating. In pharmacies, the lists of drugs that are no longer available are growing day by day.
Kazmerchak begins his day in long lines for drinking water, rationed at 10 liters (2 1/2 gallons) per person. People come with empty bottles and buckets to fill when the water delivery trucks make their rounds.
“The food is running out, and the shelling and shelling doesn’t stop,” he said.
Nestled between the Desna and Dnieper rivers, Chernihiv straddles one of the main routes that Russian troops invading from Belarus used on February 24 in what the Kremlin hoped was a thunderbolt to the capital, kyiv, which is not only 147 kilometers (91 miles). ) a way.
The city’s peace was shattered, more than half of the 280,000 residents fled, the mayor said, unable to know when they would next see its magnificent golden-domed cathedral and other cultural treasures, or even if they would be still standing every time they return. The mayor, Vladyslav Atroshenko, estimates the death toll in Chernihiv during the war at hundreds.
Russian forces shelled low-lying residential areas in “absolutely clear weather” and “deliberately destroy civilian infrastructure: schools, kindergartens, churches, residential buildings and even the local football stadium”, Atroshenko told the Ukrainian television.
On Wednesday, Russian bombs destroyed the main Chernihiv bridge over the Desna River on the road to kyiv; On Friday, artillery shells rendered the remaining pedestrian bridge impassable, cutting off the last possible path for people to exit or for food and medical supplies to enter.
Chernihiv refugees who fled the encirclement and arrived in Poland this week spoke of widespread and terrible destruction, with bombs leveling at least two schools in the city center and strikes also hitting the stadium, museums and many houses.
They said with the utilities cut, people are drawing water from the Desna to drink and the strikes are killing people as they queue for food. Volodymyr Fedorovych, 77, said he narrowly escaped a bomb that fell on a bread line he was standing in moments earlier. He said the blast killed 16 people and injured dozens, ripping off arms and legs.
The siege is so intense that some of those trapped can’t even muster the strength to be afraid, Kazmerchak said.
“The ravaged houses, the fires, the corpses in the street, the huge aerial bombs that did not explode in the courtyards no longer surprise anyone,” he said. “People are just tired of being scared and don’t even always go down to basements.”
With the invasion now in its second month, Russian forces have apparently stalled on many fronts and are even losing ground previously taken to Ukrainian counterattacks, including around kyiv. The Russians bombarded the capital from the air but did not take or surround the city. US and French defense officials say Russian troops appear to have taken up defensive positions outside kyiv.
As Russia continues to strike and encircle urban populations, from Chernihiv and Kharkiv in the north to Mariupol in the south, Ukrainian authorities on Saturday rejected statements by the Russian military suggesting that it planned to concentrate its remaining forces on the entire eastern Ukrainian Donbass. region of Ukrainian control. The region has been partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
“We cannot believe Moscow’s statements because there are still a lot of untruths and lies on this side,” Markian Lubkivskyi, adviser to the Ukrainian defense minister, told the BBC. “That’s why we understand that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s goal is always the whole of Ukraine.”
That skepticism was underscored hours later when explosions rocked Lviv, a city in western Ukraine about 45 miles (72 kilometers) from the Polish border where around 200,000 displaced Ukrainians have taken refuge.
Among them is Olana Ukrainets, a 34-year-old computer scientist from Kharkiv.
“When I arrived in Lviv, I was sure that all these alarms would have no results,” the Ukrainians told the AP from a bomb shelter after the blasts. “Sometimes when I heard them at night, I just stayed in bed. Today I changed my mind and I would have to hide every time. … None of the Ukrainian cities are safe now.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Saturday it did not expect a reprieve for citizens of bombed Ukrainian towns anytime soon.
“Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas as it seeks to limit its own already considerable casualties, at the cost of further civilian casualties,” the British ministry said.
Previous bombings of hospitals and other non-military sites, including a theater in Mariupol where Ukrainian authorities said a Russian airstrike killed 300 people last week, have already sparked war crimes allegations .
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appearing via video link at the Doha Forum in Qatar, on Saturday compared the destruction of Mariupol to the Syrian and Russian destruction of the city of Aleppo.
The invasion drove more than 10 million people from their homes, nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population. Of these, more than 3.7 million have fled the country completely, according to the United Nations. Thousands of civilians are said to have died.
In Chernihiv, hospitals are no longer functioning and residents are cooking over open fires in the street as the electricity is cut. The utility workers who stayed behind are not enough to repair broken power lines and restore other essential services, and the weather has become a blur, the mayor said.
“We live without dates or days of the week,” Atroshenko told Ukrainian television.
Ever since a Russian explosion hit a Stalin-era cinema next to his 12-story apartment building, Kazmerchak, the linguistics specialist, has been spending his nights in a bomb shelter. A Russian missile also destroyed the hotel not far from his house.
“The walls were shaking so much,” he said. “I thought my house would collapse any minute and I would be left under the rubble.”
Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv; Nebi Qena in Kyiv; Cara Anna in Lviv and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.