They want to wipe our city off the face of the Earth: As a father weeps over body of son who was shelled while playing football, Russians kill hundreds as troops besiege Mariupol
- The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol off the Sea of Azov is a key Russian target
- It stands surrounded by Russian troops this evening under a barrage of shellfire
- A father wept over the body of his 15-year-old son, killed while playing football
- Hundreds are feared dead as invaders are accused of trying to wipe out the city
A shroud of smoke rises over Mariupol as the besieged city reels beneath another relentless bombardment.
And today, among the victims of the indiscriminate shelling was a teenage boy out playing football with his friends. He died before he reached hospital, his father left to weep over his shattered body.
Mariupol – a key Russian target because of its port and location on the Sea of Azov – remained surrounded by Russian troops last night and under a barrage of shellfire which has destroyed properties and cut off power and water supplies.
Hundreds are feared dead in the battle and a local official accused the Russians of wanting to wipe the city off the face of the earth.
Its seizure would allow Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine to join forces with soldiers in Crimea – the peninsula forcibly annexed by Russia in 2014.
Serhii, father of teenager Iliya, cries over his son’s lifeless body lying on a stretcher at a maternity hospital converted into a medical ward in Mariupol, Ukraine
Families now face food shortages following five days of constant shelling while they have shivered in dark homes, left without electricity and heat.
Fifteen-year-old Iliya was playing football with two friends when they were hit by Russian shelling. David and Artyom, also 15, were found with their legs riddled with shrapnel – and now face the prospect of amputations.
The trio were taken from their makeshift football pitch near a school to the closest hospital but Iliya was dead on arrival, his legs blown apart.
As his father Serhii cradled his blond-haired boy, he wept uncontrollably. ‘My little son,’ he cried.
Mariupol’s mayor Vadym Boichenko today described the attack on his city as a ‘full-scale genocide of the Ukrainian people.’
Without power lines, medics tending to the wounded were unclear as to where to take them.
The deputy mayor of Mariupol reported: ‘Residential areas heavily bombed. The situation is awful, we are near to a humanitarian catastrophe. We have been under more than 15 hours of continuous shelling without pause’
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In a series of increasingly frantic announcements today, Mr Boichenko said that, despite Russian officials reportedly urging civilians to evacuate to avoid further bloodshed, rail links were destroyed to prevent anybody leaving.
He then pleaded for a ceasefire so that power could be restored to the city. But the bombardment continued.
Pyotr Andriushchenko, an aide to the mayor, said the Russians were utilising their entire arsenal of weapons in a series of murderous attacks, including Grad rocket launch systems and their air force.
He added that a Russian victory would be seen as symbolic because Mariupol had held out against pro-Russian separatists when the nearby Donbas region was claimed eight years ago.
‘It’s a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, that’s why they just want to turn it into a heap of ashes,’ he said.
‘This isn’t a military operation – they’re trying to wipe this city off the face of the earth.’
His superior, Mr Boichenko, compared the tactics to the siege of Leningrad – now St Petersburg – during the Second World War, when up to 650,000 people trapped by a Nazi blockade were killed. ‘The invaders are systematically and methodically trying to blockade the city of Mariupol,’ he said.
Briton Shaun Pinner, who previously served in the Royal Anglian Regiment, was today on the front line in Mariupol alongside Ukrainian soldiers.
The ex-serviceman, 48, had been updating friends and family on Facebook about the situation on the ground but warned yesterday that his route to the world outside of the Ukrainian port city could soon be cut off.
He said: ‘These may be my last posts for a while. Sirens are sounding. The constant shelling from Grad and artillery is relentless. They bomb indiscriminately in all directions. Russian planes fly freely over Mariupol.
‘At night we hear the afterburners [on the jet’s engines] and see them, as I can only describe as like Christmas lights with a devastating sound of death.’
He added that, despite the horrendous conditions, soldiers were doing their best to keep their spirits up.
Mr Pinner emigrated to Mariupol several years ago to join their forces and now has a Ukrainian wife.
‘I’ve watched guys try to get some alone time these last hours,’ he added. ‘Talking on phones, watching videos and sending messages to family.’
He said a soldier next to him had developed trench foot, a serious condition caused by having constantly wet feet that was common on the Western Front in the First World War.
He added: ‘Understand we have been withdrawing, fighting and withdrawing with no rest.
‘Sleep is not really sleep. Short naps over maybe 20 or 30 minutes, ever alert for Grad, artillery or the order to move. Still we fight, still we survive.’
Those who remained trapped in Mariupol yesterday faced coming to terms with their diminishing chances of survival in the face of such a sustained attack.
IT developer Maxim Skorobohach, 27, was hiding in the hallway of his grandparents’ apartment block, alongside the terrified pensioners, who are in their 80s.
‘Food and medicine is not moving in Mariupol now,’ he told the BBC. ‘The local government tried to give out bread and water but it is gone. I filled the bath with water before the water stopped. We have about five litres left.’
Alexander, 44, an engineer, said he was sheltering with his wife, two sons and mother in a five-storey building. ‘We have been bombed and shelled for five days and right now I can hear shots and bombs non-stop,’ he said.
As darkness fell yesterday, authorities insisted Mariupol remained under Ukrainian control – but the city under siege looks unlikely to hold out much longer.
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