Explosions and shelled buildings in Ukraine make for dramatic footage but the human toll will play out long after the rubble has been cleared. Nowhere is that more apparent than the southeastern port city of Mariupol, where residents live with the fear of death. Allied Press Central Otago bureau chief Jared Morgan is watching the country he called home for almost a decade be destroyed.
“I am sure I’ll die soon. It is a matter of days.
“In this city, everyone is constantly waiting for death.
“I just don’t want it to be too horrible.”
Those were the words of journalist and Mariupol woman Nadezhda Sukhorukova posted to social media on Saturday.
She has since escaped the besieged city, which was home to about 450,000 people.
It has been the subject of the most brutal assaults in Russia’s war on Ukraine, which began a month ago today, and some residents have been sheltering for weeks.
Many are without food, water or electricity.
Multiple attempts at cease-fires have failed and the Kremlin’s ministry of defence called on Ukrainian forces and officials in the city, considered to be a strategic target to the Russian Federation, to surrender by 5am Monday.
Ukrainian officials denied the request and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address the city was being “reduced to ashes” by Russia’s military aggression.
Sukhorukova is lucky.
“I am alive .. and my city is dying a painful death.”
An estimated 300,000 civilians remain trapped in the city.
One of them is Ruslan Biliakovych.
When asked how I could help him, his reply was stark.
“I don’t know.”
Money is useless when there is no food to buy.
Biliakovych’s home was hit by shell fragments last week.
The damage to his home includes most windows shattered and the walls are pockmarked by damage from shrapnel that ripped through them.
That includes his father’s bedroom, where he was showered in broken glass and debris while he slept.
“I’m sorry for [using a] bad word but it’s really s…,” he said.
He maintained good humour regardless.
“A plus side of war?” he asked me.
“I’ve lost 11kg.”
That black humour was also demonstrated by Slava Svitova, owner and founder of Creative Women Publishing, who fled Kyiv with her daughter Polina to the relative safety of her parents’ home in the west of the country.
Responding to Russian propaganda (spread even here in New Zealand in far-right circles) that the invasion is merely a “military operation” targeting US-funded biolabs, she had this to say:
“In my beautiful apartment, a wonderful, warm and sunny house of books, flowers, creativity and coziness, my day.
“Before Polina and I went to my parents I turned off all the appliances and took everything out of the fridge.
“I forgot about a small piece of meat and some broccoli in the freezer.”
In the space of only days they mixed to create a “deadly bouquet”, she said.
“Now everything is ventilated, and the bioweapons are neutralised and in the nearest dumpster.”
Also in Kyiv, travel and food blogger and translator Iryna Lisova said she would not sleep until the war was over but unlike the more than threemillion who have fled the country, her relatives and loved ones are staying in Ukraine.
“Kyiv, Dnipro and many other cities are under attack.”
Her former hometown of Melitopol is occupied by the Russian army.
“My friends face threats to their lives all around Ukraine.
“Mariupol has become hell on earth.
“In Chernihiv, Russian soldiers killed 13 people standing in a line to buy some bread.”
The human toll seemed surreal, she said.
“But it’s our reality.”
I write this from the comfort of 17,000km away from Russia’s war on Ukraine and from a time zone that is 11 hours ahead.
But for me this war is still very real I watch it unfold every night.
That comes courtesy of checking in on friends, colleagues and acquaintances whose lives have been destroyed in the four weeks since full-scale war came to almost every corner of Europe’s second-largest country.
Not every person I message replies .
I lived in the capital Kyiv home to more than threemillion people watch being eroded by missile attacks from the advance past the now-destroyed cities of Irpin and Bucha on its western outskirts.
Most cities in Ukraine have come under attack in the past four weeks.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, situated in the northeast, has been under sustained attack since the beginning of the conflict centre destroyed and large swathes of residential areas razed.
Kharkiv had a similar population to Auckland.
Across the country some 10million Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes.
The civilian death toll is unknown.
Explosions and shelled buildings in Ukraine make for dramatic footage .. but these are people I know.