Mariupol, the city where Putin fought

From our special correspondent in Ukraine Émilie Blachere


kiev did not give up. From now on, Russian forces are relentless in the Donbass and the great port of the Sea of ​​Azov.

Mykola Diachenko thought he was dying. Mayor of a city comprising thirteen villages, a hundred kilometers east of kyiv, in Cernihiv oblast, he is a survivor of this Russian-led war. Face marked by the ordeal, this 64-year-old man was, like ten others, held prisoner for twenty-six days. On March 5, just five days after their arrival, enemy soldiers, armed with Kalashnikovs, landed at his house in Novaya Basan, his village. They took him away with his deputy, preventing him from taking the Ventolin he needed for his asthma attacks. “You won’t need it,” said one.

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“They accompanied us to the post office, recalls the city councilor. And they lined us up against a wall, blindfolded, our hands tied behind our backs. A Russian officer interrogates him several times, his phone is searched. Brutal tone, precise questions. Above Mykola Diachenko’s head, bullets crash into the wall. “He wanted information on local Ukrainian territorial defense forces and ammunition depots,” he said. I had erased everything in my laptop and burned the notebook in which the vehicles and units were listed. I didn’t say anything. “

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They are taken elsewhere, by bus; they will then change their place of detention five times. “On a trip I saw petrol cans. Then I thought they would kill us and burn our bodies in the forest. We tried to escape, but they caught up with us. Their executioners promise them a “terrible” death. Some prisoners are beaten with rifle butts, fists and feet. Oleksii Bryzgalin, 38, a construction worker, testified to authorities that he was tied to a chair for nearly thirty hours with a grenade between his legs. Their detention conditions are appalling. Ukrainians have access to toilets once a day and are starving. “We were only allowed two potatoes. The soldiers sometimes shared their rations with us, as some were kind. They come from different regions of Russia, some from Buryatia [République bordant la Mongolie]others were Tartars or Kazakhs. One of them seemed dubious about their presence in Ukraine. Others repeated how much they loved Volodya [le diminutif de Vladimir, prénom de Poutine] and they said they were proud of this “special operation” ”, Mykola remembers bitterly. While the Russians hold him, his occupied village dies.

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A thousand men took its approximately 3,000 inhabitants hostage. Rains of Ukrainian shells fall. Stationed in gardens and vegetable gardens, tanks and armored vehicles breathe fire all day. The fragments cut the walls of houses, shops, trees. Nothing is spared by the artillery. A French legionnaire, on his way to Kiev to join his girlfriend, is said to have died in his car during one of these bombings.

Mariupol, April 16. Five days earlier, the mayor, Vadym Boychenko, had assured that 21,000 people had already been killed.

© Sergei Bobylev / TASS / Sipa USA / SIPA

The “invaders” sow terror and death. On February 28, the first day of the occupation, a man and a 14-year-old boy were shot dead in the middle of the road: their bodies were still lying around after the liberation. At 5pm that day, a few kilometers across the Supiy River, six men, chosen at random, were tortured with knives and beaten before being executed in a hangar. Among them, two members of the same family aged 29 and 39. “We were all hiding in our shelter with the women and our dog,” said Victoria, 48, in tears. My son Bogdan and my brother-in-law Oleksandr went out to smoke a cigarette. Our neighbors saw the Russians board them; they never returned. We found them, with broken ribs, ended up with several bullets in the head. These people took our lives from us… ”In the same city, about twenty prisoners, including the wounded man and an elderly man, were held for several weeks, buried in the darkness of a cellar. One man says he stayed there for seven days with a dozen people, with no food or water, just a bottle of lemonade to share. The survivor lost fifteen pounds. The day before his release, eight other randomly selected inmates were killed.

The inhabitants beg for clemency from the Russians. In vain. Confined, trapped in their shelters – without water, electricity or gas, cut off from the military – they are forced to live on their meager reserves. Four of them, chronically ill, including a diabetic, will succumb from lack of treatment. We bury them in the garden. The Russians settle carelessly in the houses that the inhabitants have fled. “Aside from the electronic and technological devices that have been useful to them, they have looted everything in our house. They didn’t use our toilets and let off steam in all the rooms, ”a villager furiously explained. In every city they occupy, Russian soldiers confiscate Ukrainian phones, seizing SIM cards to call loved ones – their only means of communication. In the Novaya Basan supermarket they loot their stocks of cigarettes and alcohol. “When unfortunately they approached us, says a lady, we pretended to be old ladies bending over, hiding our hair, pretending to limp. Women are the first victims of these drunken soldiers. At the edge of a dirt road, a mother, with swollen blue eyes, red with pain and anguish, stands planted in front of her gate. Her 20-year-old daughter was kidnapped. With no news since then, she is convinced that the young woman was kidnapped in Russia …

Russian soldiers confiscate phones and SIMs to call loved ones

Many other Ukrainian women have disappeared. Their desperate families ask for witnesses on social networks. Some have recovered the bodies of their loved ones, abandoned. Others don’t. No village was spared the bestiality of the enemy. In the surrounding countryside, no one is unaware of the atrocities committed here or elsewhere, anywhere. Kidnappings, torture, rape … Sordid stories circulate, rumors buzz around every corner. Like that of a woman in her forties tied to a pole, a bag over her head, mistreated by several Chechens who then left her there to die from her injuries. Another was allegedly attacked and tortured in front of her 4-year-old son. We are talking about the rapes of children, boys, girls, babies … According to the Ukrainian authorities, nine raped women are pregnant. Aliona Kryvouliak, head of the emergency cell within La Strada, a public body for the defense of human rights, speaks of “ethnic cleansing”: “Many of the victims support the same observations made by their attackers at the time of the facts: ‘I I will rape you until you no longer feel anything and you will no longer be able to have children … “

On Wednesday 30 March, after fourteen hours of fierce fighting, the Ukrainian army liberated Novaya Basan. “During the escape, the occupants robbed our homes, taking eggs and chickens, but also our clothes, our televisions, our computers and printers, our microwaves, our vacuum cleaners and sometimes even our toilets! he gets carried away by an old man. On the facades of the gutted buildings, the Russians have labeled the numbers of their units: 60, 56, 53, 67 … Sometimes the names of their cities of origin. On the bomb-squashed school blackboard, one of them wrote in chalk: “We are Slavs. Then we all live as friends! We didn’t want this war. A little late to express remorse … Novaya Basan and its surroundings mourn their death. In the country there are hundreds, perhaps thousands. From now on, almost as many Ukrainian or international investigators meticulously begin the inventory of the crimes committed by Vladimir Putin’s henchmen. A team from the French National Gendarmerie, from the Criminal Research Institute, is therefore at work. Responsible for identifying the victims, determining the causes and origin of their deaths, all will contribute to the 6,000 investigations already open. A first step towards justice.

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