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AP Journalists Detail Terrifying Experience Covering the War in Mariupol

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Due to its geostrategic location — it is a port on the Black Sea — Mariupol is one of the Ukrainian cities that has suffered the most from the consequences of the Russian invasion. For weeks, missiles have been falling on civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and the famed theater where some 1,300 people were sheltering. People hide in air raid shelters, managing to partially protect themselves from the bombardment, but then die in the lines to buy food. In the midst of the Russian siege, communications have completely collapsed, leaving Mariupol isolated; alone, with hardly any news from the outside, without water, food, or medicine, and without the ability to transmit what is happening in the area to the rest of the planet.

The war is not only measured in bombs and shots, it is also communicational. Russia has spread its propaganda internally, controlling the signals and preventing local and state television and radio stations from transmitting. Meanwhile, abroad, Russia is trying to deny reports of confirmed attacks against civilian infrastructure. One of the most notorious was the bombing of the mother and child hospital in Mariupol where, according to local authorities, three people were killed, including a girl. The number of wounded reached 17.

In the midst of this hecatomb, panic was growing among the population as they were unable to receive information about the war. All they heard were bombs and gunshots. As the days went by, international journalists (who barely managed to connect to the Internet) fled the besieged city, leaving Mariupol—and the world—with only the official versions from both sides.

But there were two journalists who stayed in Mariupol for weeks: Evgeniy Maloletka and Mstyslav Chernov. Both, in the service of The Associated Press agency, were in charge of reporting everything they saw, recorded, and photographed from the port city until, one day, the Ukrainian army had to evacuate them because their lives were at risk.

“We witnessed the agony of Mariupol”

In a detailed chronicle published in AP, photojournalists Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka told how they experienced the Russian siege and why they had to flee the city.

“The Russians were hunting us down. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in,” the account reads. “We were the only international journalists left in the Ukrainian city, and we had been documenting its siege by Russian troops for more than two weeks. We were reporting inside the hospital when gunmen began stalking the corridors. Surgeons gave us white scrubs to wear as camouflage.”

Maloletka and Chernov’s Instagram profiles show the photographers’ coverage from Mariupol. They were, practically, one of the few — if not the only — independent source trying to report what was happening inside the port city.

According to the journalists, at dawn on March 15, a dozen Ukrainian servicemen entered the hospital asking, “Where are the journalists, for fuck’s sake?”

As they thought they might be undercover Russians, the journalists identified themselves, and the military immediately informed them that they had orders to evacuate them from Mariupol while the hospital walls were shaking from gunfire outside the compound.

“We ran into the street, abandoning the doctors who had sheltered us, the pregnant women who had been shelled, and the people who slept in the hallways because they had nowhere else to go. I felt terrible leaving them all behind,” recounted Chernov, who said that the close impact of the shells forced them to throw themselves to the ground as they ran through the shattered streets of Mariupol.

“We reached an entryway, and armored cars whisked us to a darkened basement,” the journalist wrote. “Only then did we learn from a policeman why the Ukrainians had risked the lives of soldiers to extract us from the hospital,” he continued to tell. the Russians had a list of their names and the Ukrainian authorities feared that the AP journalists would be kidnapped and forced to deny their own reports.

“If they catch you, they will get you on camera and they will make you say that everything you filmed is a lie,” the policeman told the two reporters. “All your efforts and everything you have done in Mariupol will be in vain.”

Columns of smoke rise from a residential area in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, besieged for three weeks by Russian troops, Saturday, March 19, 2022. (Image: EFE)

In the middle of the chronicle, after denouncing that Russia wanted to capture them because their reports exposed the cruelty of Russian attacks, the journalists recounted some of the horrors they saw in Mariupol.

“The deaths came fast. On Feb. 27, we watched as a doctor tried to save a little girl hit by shrapnel. She died,” the chronicle reads. “A second child died, then a third. Ambulances stopped picking up the wounded because people couldn’t call them without a signal, and they couldn’t navigate the bombed-out streets.”

According to the account, doctors insistently asked to videotape families taking their own wounded and dead to the hospital. They saw supermarkets being looted, shells hitting stores, and a lot of fear among the population. Many Ukrainians asked them for information about the war and when it would end, neither Maloletka, and Chernov knew what to answer. The only hope was the rumor that the Ukrainian army was coming to the city to take it back and free it from the siege. No one ever arrived.

“I had seen so much death that I filmed almost without taking it in”

As the airstrikes intensified, the deaths and injuries multiplied. AP journalists witnessed this and the wreckage caused at the mother and child hospital. “We had recorded so many dead people and dead children, an endless line,” they said.

That was days before they fled. They did not know that, at that time, Russia was trying hard to deny their work and that their lives were in danger.

About the escape from Mariupol, the journalists said that it did not feel like a rescue as the feeling was “we were just being moved from one danger to another.”

“We crammed into a Hyundai with a family of three and pulled into a 5-kilometer-long traffic jam out of the city. Around 30,000 people made it out of Mariupol that day — so many that Russian soldiers had no time to look closely into cars with windows covered with flapping bits of plastic,” recounted the journalists, who are now out of the port city and making headlines in all the world’s major media.

According to their account, they passed through as many as fifteen Russian checkpoints, where they understood that Mariupol is doomed to siege, as the Ukrainian army would have to break through too much hostile terrain.

At the sixteenth checkpoint, finally, they heard Ukrainian voices. “I felt an overwhelming relief. The mother in the front of the car burst into tears. We were out,” Chernov wrote. “We were the last journalists in Mariupol. Now there are none.”

Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.

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