Explosions and shelled buildings in Ukraine make for dramatic footage but the human toll will play out long after that rubble has been cleared. Nowhere is that more apparent than the southeastern port city of Mariupol, where residents dance with 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
on social media on Saturday.
She has since escaped the besieged city, which was home to around 450,000 people.
It has been the subject of the most brutal assaults in Russia’s war on Ukraine, which began a month ago on Thursday.
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 Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky 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 can help him, his reply is 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 shrapnel that ripped through them.
That included 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 shit,’’ Biliakovych says.
He maintains good humour, regardless.
‘‘A plus side of war?’’ he tells me.
‘‘I’ve lost 11kg.’’
That black humour is also demonstrated by Slava Svitova, owner and founder at Creative Women Publishing, who has fled Kyiv with her daughter, Polina, to the relative safety of her parents in the west of the country.
Responding to Russian propaganda (spread even here in New Zealand in right-wing political circles) the invasion is merely a ‘‘military operation’’ targeting US-funded biolabs, she has this to say: ‘‘In my beautiful apartment, a wonderful, warm and sunny house of books, flowers, creativity and coziness, my biolab was activated the other 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 says.
‘‘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 says she won’t sleep until the war is over, but unlike the more than three million 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, Melitopol, is occupied by the Russian army, she says.
‘‘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 seems surreal, she says.
‘‘But it’s our reality.’’
I write this from the comfort of a 17,000km distance from Russia’s war on Ukraine, and
from a time zone that is 11 hours ahead.
For me this war is very real — it is personal — and 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 largest country.
Not every person I message replies.
I lived in the capital Kyiv — home to more than three million people — which I watch being eroded by missile attacks from the advance of the now destroyed cities of Irpin and Bucha on its western border.
Most cities in Ukraine have come under attack in the past four weeks.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, situated in the northeast, has been under sustained attack since the beginning of the conflict — its centre destroyed and large
swathes of residential areas destroyed.
Kharkiv had the same population as Auckland.
Across the country some 10m 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.