More than 160,000 civilians remain trapped in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and face increasingly harsh conditions as Russian forces enter the city.
Mariupol has been under siege for more than a month since the Russian invasion on February 24and. Civilians trapped there have not had access to electricity, internet, food or water since March 2n/a, reports the New York Times, and resort to slush or untreated sewage. Buses sent to Mariupol for evacuation were unable to pick up the remaining residents, and without Russia’s agreement to respect humanitarian corridors for civilians to be evacuated, hundreds of thousands of people risk starvation and death.
There were more than 450,000 people in Mariupol before February 24and. 140,000 people left before Russian troops surrounded the city and another 150,000 left during the blockade, but 160,000 remain, according to CNN. According to the UN, nearly 4 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko reported that more than 5,000 people were killed in his city alone, including more than 200 children, but the numbers later became hazy; the burials ceased in mid-March, according to AFP, as conditions became too dangerous. More than 10,000 are thought to have died.
“The Russian Federation is playing with us,” Mayor Boichenko said on March 28and. “We are in the hands of the invaders.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that he had told Ukrainian soldiers remaining in Mariupol that they could withdraw from the city if they felt the only chance of survival was an evacuation. However, officers are reluctant to leave behind those who cannot evacuate, according to The New York Times.
It has been clear from the start of the invasion that Putin has absolute disregard for human life. The Russian government denies targeting civilians, but schools, hospitals, nurseries and psychiatric centers have been damaged or destroyed. Since the siege began, according to CNN, 90% of Mariupol’s hospital capacity has collapsed, including several maternity wards. March 16and, Russian planes bombed a theater, killing more than 3,000 people sheltering there. Aid workers and civilians are caught in the crossfire, preventing organizations like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from delivering basic necessities to the thousands of people stranded in Mariupol. Reuters says Russian soldiers targeted civilians in the streets, bombed civilian shelters and blocked civilians from accessing essential humanitarian supplies. This violence against Ukrainian civilians constitutes a crime against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: “A widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population”.
The United Nations called for a “humanitarian ceasefire” on March 28and to protect civilians and create space for negotiation. Negotiations were due to start in Turkey the first week of April, Reuters reports.
While the Russian state propaganda apparatus convinces its citizens that Putin is fighting for the “denazification” of Ukraine, Putin himself is only perpetuating the same crimes he claims to be fighting against. Destroying homes, schools, hospitals and shelters is a crime against humanity. Thus target civilians and force people to starve in the encircled city of Mariupol. Russia must stop targeting civilians and allow safe passage through humanitarian corridors if it is to credibly commit to a peace agreement.