Mariupol was once a rich industrial city until the Kremlin besieged and bombed it. The Russian occupiers want to turn the ruins into a bathing resort. The residents don't believe in it. Mariupol's mayor warns of poisoned groundwater because of the mass burials.
After weeks of shelling, the Ukrainian port of Mariupol lies in ruins, and the last Ukrainian soldiers in the Azovstal steelworks have surrendered. According to their own statements, the Russian occupiers now want to transform the once vibrant industrial and economic center on the Azov Sea into a seaside resort - a project that is hard to imagine in the midst of charred ruins. Even with the few people on the streets, the imagination is not enough. They tend to see no future for themselves and their city.
Three months of siege and fighting turned Mariupol into a ghost town. Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled, many have died. The avenues are almost entirely made up of the Russian military and its separatist allies, as journalists observed on a press trip organized by the Russian Defense Ministry. The media were not allowed near the huge Azov steelworks, where Ukrainian fighters put up fierce resistance to the end.
The weeks of gunfire have stopped. The first residents dare to go out on the streets again. However, there is little sign of relief or even optimism among them. Not even Angela Kopyza: The 52-year-old former nurse for infants bursts into tears when she tells how she and her neighbors survived the weeks without water and electricity. "You shared a spoonful of food with the children and grandchildren," she says in Russian with a typical Donbass accent -- and mourns the newborns who "starved to death in the maternity wards."
Kopyza does not believe in a future for himself in the port city controlled by Russia: "What should I say when the house is destroyed, when life is destroyed?" There isn't even anything to eat, no work, she says, adding: "I'm not hoping for anything anymore." Then, faced with a Russian military patrol, she quickens her pace and hurries off.
Jelena Ilyna's voice also breaks when she talks about her life. The former computer science professor at the Technical University of Mariupol has lost everything: her apartment burned down; even the clothes she wears were given to her by "sympathetic people," she says. The 55-year-old, who is staying with her daughter and son-in-law, only wants one thing: her old life back. "I want to live in my apartment again, in peace, go to work and just chat with my children," she says - then she has to sob.
During the organized press tour, the Russian army will also take journalists to the city zoo. There they meet Oksana Krishtafowitsch, who was hired as an animal keeper in exchange for food. Before the Russian offensive on February 24, the 41-year-old worked as a cook in a restaurant, which she says was destroyed. "Now they're my customers," she says while taking a food bowl to the raccoons. Krishtafowitsch says there is a shortage of everything in Mariupol. Then she adds stoically: "We get used to it, we adapt. We survive."
Sergej Pugatsch also had to change his career again. He worked for the Azov Steelworks for 30 years, and in February he was only two months away from his retirement. Now the 60-year-old is employed as a keeper at the zoo. He does not know whether he will ever receive his pension. But he doesn't want to complain. The Ukrainian people are hardworking, he emphasizes. As soon as the fighting stopped, people came out of the basements and looked for work. "Some are already working," he adds proudly.
But the mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boychenko, has already warned of new dangers for the people in the coming weeks. The "Kyiv Independent" reported on Twitter that the city was threatened with an outbreak of infectious diseases. "The sewage system isn't working. There are chaotic mass burials all over the city. During the summer rains, all the toxins end up in the rivers, the sea and the springs from which people get their water," Boychenko said, according to the report.