War in Ukraine, Mariupol trapped by bombs

Of Andrea Nicastro, our correspondent in Mariupol

In the shelters of the city most affected by the carpet raids in Moscow, from which an escape is attempted on packed trains and strategic for connections with Crimea

What is a family to do in a besieged city? A city that on the one hand hears the bombs falling 30, 20, 15 kilometers away and on the other hand has enemies advancing? In moments like this, experience is not enough and you cannot even follow what others are doing because no one knows what to do. No one has ever taught you to deal with this exception. The only thinking, thinking fast, but under stress even more difficult.

You’ve been up since 5, bombs or phone calls from relatives have thrown you out of bed. Hear the cannon fire as if it were distant thunder, but without lightning. A bang every three four seconds for a few minutes. Then nothing more for half an hour and then it all starts again. a dull boom that shakes the bowels and if for a moment you dare to think that there is someone fighting for you down there, your stomach shrinks.

Stunned, turn on the TV. They also hit Kiev, your capital. And all the other major cities, where there was an air base, where there were defenses. The Russian enemy reaches everywhere. What to do? Think, think. You’ve seen so many movies, someone must be useful. No empty brain.

The first orders arrive at nine in the morning. It’s a relief because this day seems to have lasted too long: stay indoors, don’t panic, don’t stock up, just trust government sources. The stocks. You didn’t think about it. You are not the only one who reacts like this. There is a queue at the supermarket. To get there, you pass through a ghost town. The shops haven’t opened, nor have the bars. Why didn’t you think about it yesterday? The brain is not spinning fast enough and what troubles you is that you cannot predict what will happen tomorrow. So you blame yourself for not following the news enough.

Here, the TV. You have to look at it. So you do. They will do the thinking for you. Television in front and mobile phone in hand. And you search and look and listen and the brain gets confused even more. The commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces says that Putin’s dream of a blitzkrieg has failed. So why are the Russians everywhere? Above Kiev, a stone’s throw from Kharkyv, towards Odessa, all around your Mariupol.

The Russians took Sumy, a village north of the Lugansk separatist territory. It will be 200 kilometers from you. Russian social networks show Ukrainian tanks and armored vehicles abandoned in the city and checkpoints of Russian armored cars. Disinformation, you reassure yourself, will be images of the 2014 war.

At lunchtime the news shows the train station full of people. Why didn’t you think about it too? Leave your fork and run to the station to buy tickets for the whole family. From Mariupol there are just 5 trains a day. Two have already gone. One will go to Kiev but they are bombing, one to Kharkiv but they are bombing, one to Odessa but the Russians have cut the tracks.

Well you didn’t think fast enough. React now. Medicine is needed. Race, queue, pharmacy: but they have run out of sterile gauze. Money: queue at the ATM, 40 minutes and mini withdrawal. You feel weak, exposed. Radio, television, social media speak of the courage, resistance and success of your soldiersbut meanwhile the bombing continues and the fear grows.

On the mobile comes the video of an old Ukrainian woman who harasses a Russian soldier. Go away, what did you come here for? You want to? I’ll give you my change, but come back to your house. He ignores her. The video comes from Ghenichesk, on the way to Odessa. D.Onna brave, but how come the Russians are there if the blitzkrieg failed?

Your Mariupol mayor, Vadym Boychenko, arrives late for the press conference. He is the city firmly in the hands of our army. Three civilians were killed during the Russian attack, but our troops contained the offensive. Life in the city goes smoothly. Public transport runs for free. Curfew from 10pm to 7am, but please darken the windows and turn off the lights as early as sunset so as not to give any reference to any bombers. Glory to Ukraine, we will win. The Ukrainian military command of Donbass reports 4 tanks and an enemy helicopter destroyed. At 4 pm – says the spokesman – we rejected an attempted breakthrough near Pishevik. In the clash, our forces had 16 wounded, all hospitalized in Mariupol number 1 hospital.

We are resisting, therefore, but Pishevik a 15-minute drive from Mariupol. I’m here, around the corner. Open the window and those diamonds again. Hundreds of bombs throughout the afternoon. Boom, boom, boom. Close the window to not hear them.

On the Odessa side, Ukrainians and Russians agree that Moscow’s troops are targeting Kherson. They have already taken over the aqueduct that supplied Crimea and had been cut off by the Ukrainians in retaliation for the 2014 invasion. Part of the territory, Kiev admits, is in Russian hands. The advance of the Moscow troops entered from Crimea killed 13 people including 9 soldiers and 2 minors, plus 23 injured.

For their part, the Muscovites speak of the day’s goals fully achieved, of small advances in the Donbass and of six bridges destroyed. A friend says: tomorrow I’m here in Mariupol. always been a pessimist. Moscow claims to have taken all the airports and destroyed the anti-aircraft. So tonight will be worse than yesterday. Terror enters the bones, behind ideas. The night will be a long nightmare.

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