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A City Under Siege – The New York Times

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A City Under Siege – The New York Times

Mariupol – in southeastern Ukraine, near the Russian border – has been under siege for more than two weeks. This is the city where Russia bombed a maternity hospital last week and yesterday attacked a theater that hundreds of citizens were using as shelter. According to a Ukrainian official, it is not clear how many of these people have survived.

Since the start of the war, two of Mariupol’s few working journalists have been Mstislav Chernov and Evgeny Maloletka of the Associated Press. My colleagues and I were deeply impressed by his post, and we are turning the body of today’s newsletter into an excerpt from it.

The bodies of all the children lay here, thrown into this narrow ditch, hastily dug into the frozen ground of Mariupol, and the gunfire continued to beat.

There is 18-month-old Kirill, whose shrapnel wound on his head proved too much for the body of his young child. There is Ilya, 16, whose leg was amputated in an explosion during a football game in a school field. There is a girl no more than 6 years old who wore pajamas with a cartoon unicorn and who was one of the first Mariupol children to die from a Russian shell.

He was buried along with dozens of others in this mass grave on the outskirts of the city. A man covered in a bright blue tarp, weighed down by stones on the crumbling edge. A woman draped in red and gold sheets, her feet tied neatly at the ankles with a scrap of white cloth. Workers toss bodies as quickly as possible, because the less time they spend in the open, the greater their chances of survival.

“Damn everyone, the people who started this!” Angry Volodymyr Bykovsky, a worker pulling bags of shrunken black bodies from a truck.

And bodies will come, from the streets where they are everywhere and from the basement of the hospital where the corpses of adults and children are kept, waiting for someone to pick them up. The smallest still has an umbilical stump attached.

Each airstrike and shelling that pounded Mariupol incessantly—about several times a minute—takes home the curse of a geography that has put the city in the path of Russia’s domination of Ukraine. This southern port of 430,000 has become a symbol of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to crush a democratic Ukraine – and of a fierce resistance on the ground. The city is now surrounded by Russian troops, who are slowly squeezing life out of it, one blast at a time.

The surrounding roads are mined and the port is blocked. The food is running out, and the Russians have halted humanitarian efforts to bring it in. Electricity is mostly gone and water is scarce, for residents to drink as the snow melts. People burn furniture scraps in makeshift grills to warm their hands in the cold.

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Some parents have left their newborns in the hospital, perhaps hoping to give them a chance at life with good electricity and water in one place.

Death is everywhere. Local authorities have counted more than 2,500 deaths in the siege, but many bodies cannot be counted because of the endless firefight. He has asked families to leave their dead outside on the streets as it is too dangerous to perform the last rites.

Just a few weeks ago, Mariupol’s future looked very bright. If geography drives a city’s destiny, Mariupol was well on its way to success with its thriving iron and steel plants, a deep-water port, and high global demand for both.

By February 27, that began to change, as an ambulance rushed to a city hospital carrying a small immobile girl, not yet 6. Her gray hair was pulled back from her pale face with rubber bands, and her pajama pants were covered in blood. Russian shelling.

His wounded father came with him, his head bandaged. His mother was standing outside the ambulance, crying.

As doctors and nurses huddled around him, one gave him an injection. Another jolted him with a defibrillator. “Show it to Putin,” said one doctor with a faint fury. “The eyes of this child and the crying doctor.”

They could not save him. The doctors covered the little body with his pink striped jacket and slowly closed his eyes. She now rests in a mass grave.

This suffering fits in with Putin’s goals. Siege is a military strategy popular in medieval times and designed to crush the population through hunger and violence, allowing the invading force to spare the cost of entering a hostile city for its troops. Instead, civilians are left to die. Mariupol’s deputy mayor Serhi Orlov predicts that soon the worse will happen. Most of the city is stuck. “People are dying without water and food, and I think over the next several days we will count hundreds and thousands of deaths.”

for more information: See more photos from Mariupol (which Paris-based Lori Hinnant helped write) in AP’s full story. And read a dispatch from Mykolaiv – another congested city on the Black Sea – by my colleague Michael Schwartz, with photographs by Tyler Hicks.

  • As the war enters its fourth week, Russian forces are taking heavy losses on the battlefield and increasingly targeting their attacks against towns and cities.

  • To the south, Russia’s warships on the Black Sea fired missiles at cities around Odessa, but its ground forces remained more than 80 miles away.

  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the US Congress for more weapons, and he called on President Biden to become the “leader of peace.” (Here’s a transcript of Zelensky’s speech.)

  • The Biden administration will give Ukraine more high-tech defensive weapons that require little training to use, part of an additional $800 million in military aid.

  • According to US estimates, more than 7,000 Russian soldiers have been killed – more than the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

  • Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine continue to this day.

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Here is a selection of literature and non-fiction that might help you better understand Ukraine, compiled by the authors and editors at The Times Books desk.

“Your Ad Can Go Here,” by Oksana Zabuzhko. Alexandra Alter writes, “short stories about Ukrainians facing personal and political inflection points, written by a well-known public intellectual, “heroic in the real and the supernatural”.

“Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine,” edited by Oksana Maximchuk and Max Rosokhinsky. The anthology, which focuses on fighting in the Crimea and the Donbass region, includes the works of several Ukrainian poets. “Some have fought on the front lines, while others have helped evacuate family members,” writes Alexandra.

“Absolute Zero” by Artem Cheikh. A memoir of a Ukrainian novelist who fought in the Donbass in 2015, the book “incorporates the perspectives of civilians and their fellow soldiers,” writes Joumana Khatib.

“The Gates of Europe” by Serhi Plokhi. This comprehensive overview of Ukraine, written by the director of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute, goes back centuries to trace the country’s history under various empires and its fight for independence.

For more information, our colleagues put together two lists: one mostly non-fiction on the history of Ukraine and one of contemporary fiction and memoir.

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