Bombed-out city in northern Ukraine fears becoming ‘next Mariupol’

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Nights are spent huddled underground as Russian strikes reduce their encircled city to rubble.

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Nights are spent huddled underground as Russian strikes reduce their encircled city to rubble. Daylight hours are spent hunting for clean water and risking queuing for what little food is available as shells and bombs rain down.

This is what now passes for life in Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine where death is everywhere. It’s not – yet – quite as synonymous with excruciating human suffering as the pulverized southern city of Mariupol has become in the 31 days since Russia invaded Ukraine.

But similarly besieged, blockaded and pounded from afar by Russian troops, the remaining residents of Chernihiv are terrified that with every explosion, bomb and unrecovered body in the streets, they will be caught in the same macabre trap of inevitable murder and destruction.

“In the basements, at night, everyone talks about one thing: Chernihiv becomes (the) next Mariupol,” said Ihar Kazmerchak, a 38-year-old resident who specializes in linguistics.

He spoke to The Associated Press by cellphone, amid incessant beeps that his battery was dying. The city is without electricity, without running water and without heating. In pharmacies, the lists of drugs that are no longer available are growing day by day.

Kazmerchak begins his day in long queues for drinking water, rationed at 10 liters per person. People come out with empty bottles and buckets to fill as the water delivery trucks make their rounds.

“The food is running out, and the shelling and shelling doesn’t stop,” he said.

On Wednesday, Russian bombs destroyed the main Chernihiv bridge over the Desna River on the road to kyiv, Ukraine’s capital; On Friday, artillery shells rendered the remaining pedestrian bridge impassable, cutting off the last possible path for people to exit or for food and medical supplies to enter.

Chernihiv refugees who fled encirclement and reached Poland this week spoke of widespread and terrible destruction, with bombs leveling at least two schools in the city center and strikes also hitting a stadium, museums, gardens children and many houses.

They said that with the utilities cut, people are drawing water from the Desna to drink and the strikes are killing people as they queue for food. Volodymyr Fedorovych, 77, said he narrowly escaped a bomb that fell on a bread line he was standing in moments earlier. He said the blast killed 16 people and injured dozens, ripping off arms and legs.

The siege is so intense that some of those trapped can’t even muster the strength to be afraid, Kazmerchak said.

“The ravaged houses, the fires, the corpses in the street, the huge aerial bombs that did not explode in the courtyards no longer surprise anyone,” he said. “People are just tired of being scared and don’t even always go down to basements.”

With the invasion now in its second month, Russian forces have apparently stalled on many fronts and are even losing ground previously taken to Ukrainian counterattacks, including around kyiv. The Russians attacked the capital from the air but did not take or surround the city. US and French defense officials say Russian troops appear to have taken up defensive positions outside kyiv.

But as Russia continues to strike and encircle urban populations, from Chernihiv and Kharkiv in the north to Mariupol in the south, Ukrainian authorities said on Saturday they could not trust statements by the Russian military on Friday suggesting that the Kremlin planned to concentrate its remaining forces on the pullout. the entire eastern region of Donbass in Ukraine outside of Ukrainian control. The region has been partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.

“We cannot believe Moscow’s statements because there are still a lot of untruths and lies on this side,” Markian Lubkivskyi, adviser to the Ukrainian defense minister, told the BBC. “That’s why we understand (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s goal is still all of Ukraine.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz expressed hope that Putin could seek a “sort of face-saving exit strategy”.

“Certainly, Russia didn’t achieve its goals. It didn’t take over kyiv, it didn’t change the Ukrainian government,” Przydacz told the BBC. Ukrainian army is doing so well.”

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Saturday it did not expect a reprieve for citizens of bombed Ukrainian towns anytime soon.

“Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas as it seeks to limit its own already considerable casualties, at the cost of further civilian casualties.” said the British ministry.

Previous bombings of hospitals and other non-military sites, including a theater in Mariupol where Ukrainian authorities said a Russian airstrike killed some 300 people last week, have already sparked allegations of crimes of war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appearing via video link at the Doha Forum in Qatar, on Saturday compared the destruction of Mariupol to the Syrian and Russian destruction of the city of Aleppo. And he warned that people beyond Ukraine could run out of food if the invasion is not stopped.

“Russian troops are mining fields in Ukraine, blowing up agricultural machinery, destroying fuel reserves needed for sowing. They blocked our seaports. Why are they doing this? Zelensky asked. “Our state will have enough food. But Ukraine’s lack of exports will affect many countries in the Islamic world, Latin America and other parts of the world.

The invasion has driven more than 10 million people from their homes, nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population, and of these more than 3.7 million have fled the country completely, according to the United Nations. Thousands of civilians are said to have died.

In Chernihiv, hospitals are no longer functioning and residents are cooking over open fires in the street as the electricity is cut.

Chernihiv Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko said more than half of the city’s 280,000 residents had fled amid the relentless attacks.

Russian forces, he told Ukrainian television, “deliberately destroy civilian infrastructure – schools, kindergartens, churches, residential buildings and even the local football stadium”.

It was impossible to count the dead, but Atroshenko estimated the figure to be “hundreds”.

Just about 70 kilometers from the Belarusian border on the road to kyiv, Chernihiv was attacked early in the war and surrounded by Russian troops this month, but its defenders have so far prevented a takeover.

“Chernihiv has become a symbol of the Russian military’s failed blitzkrieg, in which the plan was to take control of the city in one day and advance towards kyiv,” said Mykola Sunhurovskyi, a military analyst at the group. Razumkov Center think tank based in kyiv.

Since a Russian bomb hit a Stalin-era cinema next to his 12-story apartment building, Kazmerchak has been spending his nights in a bomb shelter. A Russian missile also destroyed the hotel not far from his house.

“The walls were shaking so much,” he said. “I thought my house was going to collapse any minute and I would be left in the rubble.”

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Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Nebi Qena in Kyiv, Ukraine, Robert Burns in Washington, Lujain Jo in Doha, Qatar and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Yuras Karmanau, Associated Press