“Russia Is Playing With Us”: Ukrainian Port Starves Under Siege

More than 160,000 civilians are still trapped in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and facing increasingly dire conditions as Russian forces move into the city.

Mariupol has been under siege for over a month since Russia invaded on February 24th. The civilians trapped there have had no access to electricity, internet, food, or water since March 2nd, the New York Times reports, and are resorting to drinking melted snow or untreated sewage water. Buses sent to Mariupol for evacuation have been unable to retrieve the remaining residents, and without Russia’s agreement to respect humanitarian corridors for civilians to evacuate, hundreds of thousands of people face starvation and death.

There were more than 450,000 people in Mariupol before February 24th. 140,000 people left before Russian troops surrounded the city and 150,000 more left during the blockade, but 160,000 remain, C.N.N. says. According to the U.N., nearly 4 million people have fled Ukraine since the beginning of the war. The mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boichenko, reported that more than 5,000 people have been killed in his city alone, including more than 200 children, but numbers after that become hazy; burials stopped in mid-March, the A.F.P. says, because conditions became too dangerous. More than 10,000 are thought to be dead.

“The Russian Federation is playing with us,” Mayor Boichenko said on March 28th. “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 retreat from the city if they felt that the only chance of survival was an evacuation. However, officers are reluctant to leave behind those who are unable to evacuate, the New York Times says.

It has been clear since the beginning of the invasion that Putin has an 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, C.N.N. says, 90% of Mariupol’s hospital capacity has collapsed, including several maternity hospitals. On March 16th, Russian planes bombed a theater, killing more than 3,000 people who were sheltering there. Humanitarian workers and civilians are caught in the crossfire, preventing organizations like the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from providing essentials to the thousands of people trapped in Mariupol. Reuters says that Russian soldiers have targeted civilians in the streets, as well as bombing civilian shelters and preventing civilians from accessing essential humanitarian provisions. 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 28th to protect civilians and create space for negotiations. The negotiations were scheduled to begin in Turkey on the first week of April, Reuters reports.

While the Russian state propaganda apparatus convinces its citizens that Putin is fighting for the “de-nazification” of Ukraine, Putin himself is only perpetuating the same crimes he claims he is battling against. Destroying homes, schools, hospitals, and shelters is a crime against humanity. So are targeting civilians and forcing people to starve in the surrounded city of Mariupol. Russia must stop targeting civilians and allow for safe passage through humanitarian corridors if it wants to credibly commit to any peace agreement.