Conditions in Mariupol are “unbearable” and “just hell,” residents who fled the besieged city in southeastern Ukraine have told CNN, as shocking drone footage and satellite photos emerged showing the utter devastation wrought by the Russian bombardment.
Mariupol city council said on Tuesday that an estimated 2,000 private cars have been able to leave the city, and a further 2,000 vehicles are parked on the main route out of Mariupol as of 2 p.m. local time Tuesday.
The departures took place despite the ongoing failure to formally establish safe corridors to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, which has been besieged since March 1.
As many as 2,500 civilians have died in Mariupol, Ukrainian officials estimate. About 350,000 people are trapped in the city, with officials warning those who remain are without electricity, water and heat.
Two women who managed to escape to the Zaporizhzhia region, about 140 miles away, on Monday told CNN about conditions in Mariupol and the frightening journey out.
Lidiia, who did not give her surname due to safety concerns, told CNN that she decided to leave Mariupol after Russian bombardments started hitting closer to her home.
“We left the city under shelling – there is no silence in Mariupol,” the 34-year-old said. “Today we talked to our neighbors, they said that the situation now is even worse, so no one knows whether people will be able to leave Mariupol today.”
She said she had spent two weeks in a basement with about 60 other people, adding she only left occasionally to retrieve items from her apartment.
Describing the journey out of the city, Lidiia said: “We stopped several times and hid the children because the airplane was flying very low directly above us. We were afraid that we would come under fire. But it was no longer possible to stay in the city. Mariupol is now just hell.”
Svitlana, who also did not give her surname over safety concerns, told CNN that she let 17 people shelter in her house after their homes were destroyed, and cooked soup in her garden using rainwater.
“When the war started, I didn’t want to leave. But when shells began to fly overhead around the clock, it became unbearable to stay there,” the 57-year-old said. “My son stayed in Mariupol, I am very worried about him, but he decided to stay. I could not persuade him to leave.”
Speaking about the conditions in Mariupol, Svitlana said: “There are still many people left in the city. I told my neighbors that it is possible to leave, but they are afraid that everything is mined.”
She added: “Yesterday, the last grocery store in the city was bombed, I wonder how will people survive now?”
As the city is reduced into a battlezone, a Ukrainian official accused Russian troops on Tuesday of holding people captive at Mariupol’s Regional Intensive Care Hospital,
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Head of Donetsk regional administration, said doctors and patients were being held against their will, adding that one of the hospital employees managed to pass on information about what was happening.
“It is impossible to get out of the hospital. They shoot hard, we sit in the basement. Cars have not been able to drive to the hospital for two days. High-rise buildings around us are burning … the Russians have rushed 400 people from neighboring buildings to our hospital. We can’t leave,” Kyrylenko said on his official Telegram channel, quoting the employee of the hospital.
Kyrylenko said the hospital was “practically destroyed” several days ago, but that its staff and patients stayed in the basement where patients continue to be treated.
Satellite images published by Maxar Technologies on Monday reveal the extent of the damage inflicted on the city, including the hospital and a number of apartment complexes.
The hospital has a hole in its southern walls and debris can be seen scattered around, while the residential buildings show significant damage.
Satellite photographs of the Primorskyi neighborhood, around a mile south of the hospital, show homes smoldering after apparently suffering Russian strikes.
Drone footage which also emerged Monday shows a destroyed apartment complex and thick plumes of smoke rising over the west of the city.
The video was posted on Telegram by the Azov Battalion, an ultra-nationalist militia that has since been integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces. CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video.
Multiple official attempts to establish safe corridors and evacuate civilians from Mariupol have failed in recent days. A large convoy of humanitarian aid that was meant to arrive on Sunday has still not reached the city as of Monday, according to officials.
Some have resorted to melting snow and dismantling heating systems to get water to drink, said Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the city mayor, on Ukrainian television on Monday.
“Most of the people are staying in the basements and shelters in inhumane conditions. With no food, no water, no electricity, no heating,” said Andriushchenko.
Speaking on Monday, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Office, said that the bombardment of Mariupol has caused more than 2,500 deaths.
CNN cannot independently verify these casualty figures.
Also on Monday, Zelensky accused Russia of committing war crimes in its attacks on the city and other parts of the country.
“Responsibility for war crimes of the Russian military is inevitable. Responsibility for a deliberate humanitarian catastrophe in Ukrainian cities is inevitable,” he said. “The whole world sees what is happening in Mariupol.”
Jack Guy wrote from London. Ivana Kottasová reported from Lviv.
CNN’s Tim Lister, Tamara Qiblawi and Yulia Kesaieva contributed to this report.