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A siege is piercing the heart of “Mary’s City” in Ukraine


National Police of Ukraine | AFP

John Burger - published on 03/10/22

Residents of Mariupol are beginning to starve, some are dying of dehydration, and an airstrike on a maternity ward increases the suffering.

Mariupol, a city in Eastern Ukraine that was named “Mary’s City” by a Greek community that had once lived there, is suffering a pierced heart.

Located in a strategic position on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is the second largest city in Donetsk Oblast. It has turned out to be extremely important to Russia’s designs in its two-week-old war on Ukraine. Capturing the city would allow Russia to link the Russian-backed separatist regions in the East of Ukraine with the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. This would open supply lines for Russian troops that have been making gains along Ukraine’s Black Sea Coast and cut Ukrainian shipping off from the Sea of Azov. Since 2014, Russia has occupied Crimea.

But while supply lines could be opened for Russian troops, Moscow so far has not allowed humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to escape from the city of almost 400,000 inhabitants – or bring in badly needed humanitarian aid. The siege of Mariupol has lasted over a week, and there have been reports of civilians scavenging for food, boiling snow for drinking water, and struggling to stay warm without gas or electricity. City authorities reported the death from dehydration of a six-year-old child, after her mother was killed. 

On Wednesday, 17 people were injured during a Russian airstrike on a hospital in Mariupol; the strike did the most damage in the hospital’s maternity ward. Russia claimed that the hospital had been emptied of patients and was being used by Ukrainian armed forces. Maiupol’s city council said that three people were killed, including a child. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been 24 verified attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine so far.

“These attacks have led to at least 12 deaths and 17 injuries. At least eight of the injured and two of the killed were verified to be health workers. The attacks took place between 24 February and 8 March,” WHO said Thursday.

No funerals for the dead

Conditions are so poor in Mariupol that residents are being advised not to go outside, even to recover the bodies of people who have been killed. Officials, however, are beginning to bury bodies in mass graves. 

Reacting to the news, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said in a daily video message, “Today my conscience and the conscience of every Christian demands that we raise our voices throughout the world and loudly say the word ‘No,’ to declare strong opposition to the mass murder of people in Ukraine. Especially in these last moments, we see mass murder in the besieged city of Mariupol. This city, which was founded by the Greek community as the ‘City of Mary,’ has been transformed into a cemetery for tens of thousands of people.

“Yesterday we saw horrific scenes of the bombarding of a maternity ward as well as scenes of mass graves, common burials, where hundreds of lifeless bodies are laid to rest,” Archbishop Shevchuk said. “People are dying from hunger. People are dying from the cold. On their heads there are falling rockets, shells, bombs. Today we must remember them and, in their name, speak to the conscience of the whole world. We beseech you: Open humanitarian corridors! Give women, children, and the elderly an opportunity to leave this cold, besieged city. Give us the opportunity to send food and medicine there. Give us an opportunity to rescue people.”

Shevchuk added his voice to those who are calling for a no-fly zone, urging, “Close the Ukrainian skies to Russian weapons and Russian aviation dropping bombs on peaceful inhabitants.” The US and NATO have turned down such appeals, arguing that having to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine would put them in direct conflict with Russia and risk broadening the war. Russia has the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. 

Archbishop Shevchuk also appealed to the global Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is represented in North and South America, Europe and Australia, and other places to hold memorial services for those killed in Mariupol and “for all those who were buried in common graves without Christian prayer and a funeral.”

Shevchuk, who was in Kyiv for the first week or so of the Russian invasion, drove to the Western city of Lviv the other day to meet one of Pope Francis’ two special envoys to Ukraine, the papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.

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