Ukraine war: Life in Mariupol under Russian occupation

The invading Russian forces damaged some 90% of residential buildings in Mariupol

Finding people willing to speak to me from Mariupol was never going to be easy.

After 10 months of Russian occupation, fear and distrust are the two most frequent responses I encountered when looking for someone who could tell me how things really are in Mariupol, in Ukraine’s south-east.

“I think you are a Russian journalist. You won’t like what I’ve got to say. People like you kill if you tell them the truth,” said one social media user who claimed to be from the port city.

Russian forces put the people of Mariupol through a horrific months-long siege, before finally capturing it last May.

I eventually found three residents willing to speak to me at length: a local city councillor, a retired pensioner and an engineer. All spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from the local authorities installed by Russia (who block access to occupied Ukraine by Western journalists).

They paint a picture of a massively expensive campaign conducted by Russia to win over the hearts and minds of the people of Mariupol, and rebuild a city damaged beyond recognition by Russia’s own troops.


The purpose of this campaign is to assimilate Mariupol and make it Russia’s own.

Their accounts corroborate each other, and are confirmed by social media posts about recent developments in Mariupol.

Before this war began about half a million people lived in the city.

According to UN estimates, 90% of residential buildings were damaged or destroyed, and 350,000 people were forced to leave after Russia attacked in February 2022.

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