Shelled city in north Ukraine fears becoming ‘next Mariupol’

  • A woman shows a shelter in her house basement Saturday where she and her neighbours have been living for a month hiding from the Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

LVIV, Ukraine — Nights are spent huddling underground from Russian strikes pounding their encircled city into rubble. Daylight hours are devoted to hunting down drinkable water and braving the risk of standing in line for the little food available as shells and bombs rain down.

In the second month of Russia’s invasion, this is what now passes for life in Chernihiv, a besieged city in northern Ukraine where death is everywhere.

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It isn’t — yet — quite as synonymous with atrocious human suffering as the pulverized southern city of Mariupol. But similarly blockaded and pounded from afar by Russian troops, Chernihiv’s remaining residents are terrified that each blast, bomb and body that lies uncollected on the streets ensnares them in the same macabre trap of unescapable killings and destruction.

“In basements at night, everyone is talking about one thing: Chernihiv becoming (the) next Mariupol,” said 38-year-old resident Ihar Kazmerchak, a linguistics scholar.

He spoke to The Associated Press by cellphone, amid incessant beeps signaling that his battery was dying. The city is without power, running water and heating. At pharmacies, the lists of medicines no longer available grow longer by the day.

Nestled between the Desna and Dnieper rivers, Chernihiv straddles one of the main roads that Russian troops invading from Belarus used Feb. 24 for what the Kremlin hoped would be a lightning strike onward to the capital, Kyiv, which is just 147 kilometers (91 miles) away.

The city’s peace shattered, more than half of the 280,000 inhabitants fled, according to the mayor, unable to be sure when they’d next see its magnificent gold-domed cathedral and other cultural treasures, or even if they still would be standing whenever they return. The mayor, Vladyslav Atroshenko, estimates Chernihiv’s death toll from the war to be in the hundreds.

Russian forces have bombed residential areas from low altitude in “absolutely clear weather” and “are deliberately destroying civilian infrastructure: schools, kindergartens, churches, residential buildings and even the local football stadium,” Atroshenko told Ukrainian television.

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