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“The Russians don’t want to capture Mariupol, they want to turn it into a field of ruins”

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Diana Berg didn’t want to run away. Not again, not after he had already left his hometown of Donetsk eight years earlier when the regional capital was seized by Moscow-backed separatists. She had made Mariupol, a calm port on the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov, her adopted city. She had participated as a joyful and exuberant activist in the cultural renaissance of a city that had almost miraculously become pleasant, despite the acrid smoke from the steelworks on its outskirts. “I wanted to stay”she repeats on the phone, warm tone and agitated voice.

Mariupol, a strategic city besieged and bombarded by the Russian army

“I wanted to stay, as long as possible, I tried to make myself useful, to help, and then it became untenable, this horror, this darkness in every sense of the word. » A week after the start of the Russian invasion, Diana Berg fled the hell of Mariupol, transformed in a few days into a besieged and shelled city, deprived of water, food, electricity and all means of communication.

A city 20 km from the front line since 2015

On February 24, the Russian-Ukrainian war began in Mariupol, as everywhere across the country, with the muffled sound of explosions in the distance. Not, initially, enough to panic a city that has lived since 2015 less than 20 kilometers from the front line between the Ukrainian army and separatist groups. “My first instinct that morning was to ask myself if I should cancel the residency program of Tiou, our artistic platform”, she says, unable to hold back a nervous laugh at the memory of a normal thought that has become totally ridiculous.

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But the situation is deteriorating very quickly. While the separatists bombed and tried to advance from the east, the Russian army debouched from Crimea in the west and rapidly advanced along the coast. The pincers are obvious, but the Ukrainian army is unable to prevent it from closing: on February 27, the approximately 450,000 inhabitants of Mariupol wake up in a besieged city. Twenty-four hours later, water, electricity, gas and the Internet are also cut off, as Russian troops relentlessly shell residential areas of the city, making according to Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov “hundreds of dead”.

The impossibility of burying the dead

Along with the rest of the population, Diana Berg finds herself in a ” nightmare “. Recalling those few days, how quickly the city fell into chaos, the rhythm of his voice quickens and a flood of words pours out: “Everything is shelling and explosions around you, you’re just trying to survive when there’s no food, no fuel, no clean water. You’re in the dark in cold houses, your phones and computers have run out of battery, and even if they still had some, you wouldn’t be able to call to find out if your friends are still alive. You stand in line for drinking water because there is no more water, bombs fall all around you, people are killed and you cannot bury them because of the constant bombardments. »

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The siege of Mariupol quickly turns into a humanitarian disaster, and two attempts to evacuate the population fail on March 5 and 6 due to bombardments, Ukrainians and Russians accusing each other of being responsible for the failure.

A symbol of resistance

The violence is senseless but, for this coldly calculated activist: “They don’t want to capture Mariupol, they just want to turn it into rubble because Mariupol was a symbol of resistance and they want to destroy that symbol. » In 2014, Moscow-backed separatists failed to seize the city, offering a rare victory to Ukraine still reeling from the annexation of Crimea and the start of the conflict in the east of the country.

Death in the soul, Diana Berg fled on March 3, during a desperate escape by car which saw her cross the road of a column of Russian armored vehicles. A refugee somewhere in central Ukraine, she is now trying with her husband to organize the evacuation of those still trapped in the city.

It calls on the West to set up a no-fly zone, “only way to save the civilian population of Ukraine”. And thinks about his future, in a country under the blow of a Russian invasion. “I would like to help in one way or another”, she says after a moment of silence. “But first we have to help ourselves, because we suffered a lot, mentally and physically. »

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