Shelled city in north Ukraine fears becoming 'next Mariupol'

Shelled city in north Ukraine fears becoming next Mariupol

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

This is what now passes for life in Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine where death is everywhere. It isn't - yet - quite as synonymous with atrocious human suffering as the pulverized southern city of Mariupol has become in the 31 days since Russia invaded Ukraine.

But similarly besieged, blockaded and pounded from afar by Russian troops, Chernihiv's remaining residents are terrified that with each blast, bomb and body that lies uncollected on the streets, they're caught 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 signalling that his battery was dying. The city is without power, running water and heating. At pharmacies, the lists of medicines no longer available and grow longer by the day.

Kazmerchak starts his day in long lines for drinking water, rationed to 10 litres per person. People come out with empty bottles and buckets for filling when water-delivery trucks make their rounds.

"Food is running out, and shelling and bombing doesn't stop, he said. On Wednesday, Russian bombs destroyed Chernihiv's main bridge over the Desna River on the road leading to Kyiv, Ukraine's capital; on Friday, artillery shells rendered the remaining pedestrian bridge impassable, cutting off the last possible route for people to get out or for food and medical supplies to get in.

Refugees from Chernihiv who fled the encirclement and reached Poland this week spoke of broad and terrible destruction, with bombs flattening at least two schools in the city center and strikes also hitting a stadium, museums, kindergartens and many homes.

They said with utilities knocked out, people are taking water from the Desna to drink and that strikes are killing people while they wait in line for food. Volodymyr Fedorovych, 77, said he narrowly escaped a bomb that fell on a bread line he had been standing in just moments earlier. He said the blast killed 16 people and injured dozens, blowing off arms and legs.

So intense is the siege that some of those trapped cannot even muster the strength to be afraid anymore, Kazmerchak said. Ravaged houses, fires, corpses in the street, huge aircraft bombs that didn't explode in courtyards are not surprising anyone anymore, he said. People are simply tired of being scared and don't even always go down to the basements.

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