People sheltering in Mariupol from some of the most intense fighting anywhere in Ukraine are risking their lives each time they step foot outside their underground bunkers, a Ukrainian army commander stationed in the city has told CNN.
With Russia’s assault in its fourth week, Major Denis Prokopenko of the National Guard Azov Regiment said the besieged city was now under almost constant bombardment.
“Usually, Mariupol is under fire during the whole day and night. Sometimes there is 30 minutes of silence, but then the city is again under attack [from] tanks, artillery, multiple rockets, and [aircraft] like bombers and helicopters,” he said.
The Azov Battalion is an ultra-nationalist militia that has since been integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces.
People are reluctant to leave their underground shelters even to get hold of essentials, meaning they were trying to drink less water and eat less food. One of the few times people did leave the shelter was to prepare hot food, he said.
“People are cooking food in the streets, risking their lives under the continuous shelling and bombing. The temperature is minus 5 degree Celsius in the street,” Prokopenko told CNN.
Basic services like gas, electricity and water are all out.
Bodies are left lying in the street because there is either no one left to collect them or it is simply too dangerous to try.
Prokopenko said no one knew the exact number of people killed.
“Some people are buried under ruined buildings, buried alive,” he said.
Information about a huge attack three days ago on a theater in Mariupol being used as a shelter has been slow to emerge.
Prokopenko said he believed the building, which also acted as the city’s main humanitarian assembly station, was providing temporary home to about 800 people when it was hit.
Former Donetsk regional head Sergiy Taruta said on Thursday that 1,300 people were in the building when it was bombed.
Prokopenko confirmed earlier reports that continued Russian artillery fire made attempts to get survivors out of the building very difficult.
Figures released by several Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, say 130 people have been rescued, among them one person with serious injuries.