Russian tanks entered the battered Ukrainian port city Mariupol Saturday after relentless bombardment since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24.
Street fighting in the besieged city hampered efforts to evacuate civilians and rescue people still trapped in the basement of a theater used for shelter that officials said Russia bombed on Wednesday.
Should Mariupol fall, Russia will have a land corridor from Crimea, stretching for most of the south coast and up the eastern regions of Ukraine.
It was unclear if any humanitarian aid was reaching the city, where hundreds of thousands are trapped with little or no food or water.
The Mariupol city council said about 80% of residential buildings have been ruined by Russian attacks, Bloomberg reported.
“The shelling never stops and the shooting never stops,” said Dmytro Gurin, an MP whose parents are trapped in the south-eastern city. “Airplanes, they drop hundreds of bombs over 24 hours.”
He described conditions in the city as “medieval” in an interview with the BBC.
“People are out of food, and more importantly out of water,” Gurin said. “And several of days ago, tanks started to shoot nine-story buildings, so people cannot get out. Everybody is sitting in their apartments and basements thinking whether they will die in the next hour.”
The city, which has no electricity or heat amid sub-zero temperatures, is now unrecognizable, Gurin added. “From photos I have seen, there is no city anymore,” he said. “By estimate of the mayor’s office, 30% of buildings are totally destroyed and 50% are heavily damaged. My house is burned to the ground.”
A statement from the city council said that about 30,000 residents had managed to escape so far. That included more than 5,000 on Friday, but more than 350,000 remained stuck there.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said a route out of Mariupol was one of 10 humanitarian corridors opened on Saturday.
But Gurin expressed pessimism over the prospect of getting people out through such corridors, saying “the Ukrainian side are trying to have an agreement and open it, but Russia, almost always its only words”.
Many of those fleeing Mariupol have landed in the city of Zaporizhzhia, where the mayor declared a curfew amid Russian shelling.
Meanwhile, the fate of hundreds of people, mostly women, children and the elderly, who had been hiding in the theatre and a nearby swimming pool building because of heavy shelling, was still unknown.
Petro Andrushchenko, an adviser to the city’s mayor, said some people survived the blast and the bomb shelter had held. Emergency workers were looking for them in the rubble.
In a video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said more than 130 people have been rescued from the theater, but there was no information about how many people had died there.
Outside the city, Ukrainian and Russian forces fought for the Azovstal steel plant, one of the biggest in Europe, said Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, in televised remarks on Saturday.
“Now there is a fight for Azovstal,” he said. “I can say that we have lost this economic giant. In fact, one of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe is actually being destroyed.”
With Post Wires