“Mariupol is now a city of ghosts,” an adviser to the mayor of the ruined Ukrainian port city said Tuesday.
Speaking to CNN’s Melissa Bell, Petro Andriushchenko — who has fled to Ukrainian-held territory — said Mariupol town hall officials believe at least 22,000 residents of the city were killed during three months of war — a figure that cannot be independently verified, with the free press now unable to access the city and those still inside too scared to speak openly.
The figure of 22,000 is based, Andriushchenko said, on the many contacts he and other town hall officials continue to have with officials trapped inside. But he believes the actual figure could be much higher.
Andriushchenko said the process of reburying the dead has been complicated by Russian official insistence that reclaimed bodies be brought to a morgue and that a person claiming a body must agree to record a video in which the applicant says the deceased was killed by the Ukrainian military.
Based on the information gathered from his network of sources, Mariupol has been thrown back to the Middle Ages, Andriushchenko said.
“It is absolutely dark inside the city. The only lights are from Russian troops and Russian patrols,” he said. “Everywhere it’s the smell of death and the smell of fire.”
The mayor's adviser said his contacts paint a picture of a city in the grips of a humanitarian catastrophe with very little contact to the outside world. Mobile phone connections are only just beginning to be re-established.
He said residents are unable to move freely, with special passes needed for any movement within the city and a filtration system keeping them from fleeing altogether.
Mariupol has been at the center of a ferocious, months-long battle between Ukrainian government forces and Russian soldiers and pro-Russian fighters.
It officially fell to Russian forces Friday when the last group of the Azovstal fighters at the steel plant they had been holding out in for several weeks surrendered.