Expectations|reality: how Russia writes about Mariupol under occupation and how everything is in reality


Mariupol is a Ukrainian city in the Donetsk region, which has been under Russian occupation since May 20, 2022. It became famous throughout the world as a city where the Russian military treated civilians with particular cruelty and fought for a plant “Azovstal”.

The burned city of Mariupol is the result of the Russian invasion and fighting from February to May 2022

The director of the public relations department of the Mariupol city council, Vitaly Falkovskiy, said that 120-150 thousand local residents remained in the city. They are forced to survive in extremely difficult conditions, which the Russians created for them artificially.

We will look at how the Russian mass media tells about the life of Mariupol residents and what it is like in reality.


«There are no people left in Mariupol who are forced to live in basements» – an excursion into Russian fairy tales

The propagandist «Portal DNR» wrote in its material for November 29, 2022, how many people remained in Mariupol since the beginning of the full-scale war. According to them, there are 200,000 people left in the city, and this number is constantly growing, because «dozens of people return to the city every day». By 2035, the occupiers predict that 500,000 people will live in the city, which is more than before the «special operation».

Russian mass media are very tight-lipped about civilian casualties due to hostilities. The latest publication we found on the matter put the death toll at 5,000. By the way, the data on the population of Mariupol, provided by the self-proclaimed mayor of the city, Konstantin Ivashchenko, do not match the data of the material that we cited above. Such inconsistency is characteristic of the Russian mass media.

“According to him, 60-70% of the housing stock in the city has been destroyed or partially destroyed, 10% of the houses cannot be restored. Ivashchenko explained that in half of the cases, the cause of the destruction was “arrivals* and Grads, and artillery shells, and mortars”, – part of the previous publication.

*Arrivals – it is the hitting of enemy missiles at civilian or critical infrastructure objects.

It is interesting that the so-called authorities published a plan for the demolition of houses that are not subject to restoration – there were 314 of them. Instead, according to the plans of the Russian Federation, it is planned to build 12 residential buildings with 1,011 flats in full equipment and distribute them «for free» among Mariupol residents. From this information, the question arises, will these flats be enough for the projected 500,000 people? We doubt it. 

Instead of windows — wooden slabs

“According to Ivashchenko’s estimates, approximately 50-60 thousand residents of Mariupol huddle in basements”, information of the Russian Federation for 7 April, 2022.

Where are the local residents whose houses were demolished or are being «repaired» now? As of December 30, 2022, the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation stated that 1,018 buildings have already been repaired and people are now living there. All the others are in «maneuverable housing» converted from former dormitories.

“They (houses) were almost all without glass, engineering, all this was destroyed. Today in Mariupol there is not a single person who would remain in the basement. All relocated, – his quote.

Between three and five thousand people whose homes could not be rebuilt before winter were planned to be resettled in «maneuverable accommodation». Russian mass media write that “the rooms of the maneuverable fund, albeit small, but all the conditions have been created here: warm, dry, there is light and water, furniture and appliances have been brought in”. However, photos of what these rooms look like were not shown, later we will tell you how everything is actually arranged there.

Instead of windows — wooden slabs

Propaganda media are very fond of talking about the humanitarian aid that the «Russian brothers» regularly send to the people of Mariupol.

“They deliver every two or three days. Enough, well, I don’t know, there are six of us, somewhere for two weeks we’re definitely there”, – said Marina Rapeiko, a resident of Mariupol.

In fact, «sympathetic volunteers» boast that they bring Russian literature, stew, flour, sugar and thermal clothing for the military. Is it possible to live on it for 2 weeks, a very doubtful question.


«We wake up to reality»: how are things really going in Mariupol?

Let’s start with the general figures provided by Russia. According to her, 200 000 people remained in the city, but this is not true. We asked the city council how many residents actually remained in Mariupol, and they answered — 120-150 thousand people.

Indeed, over time, its inhabitants returned to the city. For example, in the summer there were fewer people, 90-100 thousand, but they returned because they found out that their homes survived and were in neighboring villages from Mariupol.

Thousands of residents stand in long queues for the most necessary things.

As for the death toll from February 24th, we were told it reached 22,000 as of March 2022. It was not possible to keep these terrible statistics in the future, because the municipality stopped functioning normally on the territory of the city. There is a possibility that the number of victims of a full-scale invasion is much higher, due to the impossibility of normal work of the emergency services and medics in the midst of hostilities.

Why does Russia hide the true number of dead under the figure of 5,000, if in fact the number of dead is 22,000? Because she knows that this is her crime.


«Houses without a foundation and stolen batteries»: how does Russia arrange housing?

As a result of hostilities on the territory of Mariupol, 1,350 high-rise buildings were damaged beyond repair. They will either be demolished after the de-occupation of the city, or the occupiers are already demolishing them to hide their crimes. Falkovsky also told us about this.

Russia, with a special flair, began to dismantle houses that are beyond repair. At this moment, it is known that they planned to demolish 960 high-rise buildings, of which more than 100 have already been disposed of. The reason for this is simple — before demolishing the building, the occupiers steal absolutely everything from there to sell to Mariupol residents who are trying to renovate their own homes. Petro Andryushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, often talks about such cases.

“They just steal everything that is left. Including doors, windowsills, drywall, baths, toilets – absolutely everything. Then, resold to Mariupol people who need repairs. After the complete robbery of the remnants of Mariupol people’s lives, they raze it to ashes. There is no house. There is no proof».

Most of the city is beyond repair

Regarding how repairs are carried out in damaged flats, the director of the communications department said the following:

“A very large number of houses they went to had the batteries cut off, said they would replace them and disappeared. There are no new batteries, there are no old ones either. It is not known who came. They removed the windows, they wanted to put new ones they didn’t. It is not clear where they are. Or came with windows of a different size. There are many such cases. If we say in percentages, then 60-70% are problems. Therefore, when the cold began and the temperature dropped, the locals began to complain that it was very cold in the flats and the water in the apartments froze».

In one of the flats, instead of windows, the occupants put chipboard boards. Such carelessness is explained by indifference to the fate of the civilian and the desire to close the plans as soon as possible.

As a result, says the head of the press service, people have big problems with heat, electricity and water supply. There are several areas that were the least affected by the fighting, so they partially had electricity and water. There is no heat in the whole city, given that now winter is a disaster. Because of power outages, appliances that people had in their flats failed and burned. Many fires were precisely due to wiring problems.

Indeed, the Russians started building those 12 houses that we wrote about earlier, but there are a few clarifications. Vitaly Falkovskiy said that these houses were built of very poor quality. They do not have a foundation, it is rather a modular part of the city.

“Any building that will be suitable for living, it has some standards according to which it must be built. How can you imagine a building without a foundation? It’s a modular story, like a constructor, they just put it together quickly. Even in the buildings they built, no ordinary Mariupol residents are accommodated». 

These buildings are intended for «their» and collaborators who occupy certain positions. Also, according to him, these buildings are being built on the outskirts of the city from the side from where the soldiers of Ukraine will most likely go to liberate Mariupol. There is an assumption that these houses were built as fortifications to deter Ukrainians. On the other hand, when there is a counteroffensive on Mariupol, these houses will most likely be destroyed, because they will be on the line of hostilities. For the Russians, this is an opportunity to show in the propaganda media that the Ukrainian army is destroying the «homes» of Mariupol residents and killing people.


Where do Mariupol people live then?

The residents of Mariupol, whose flats were demolished, did not have many options for survival. The first and most common is to go live with friends or relatives. The second is to wait for the Russian «authorities» to give them the keys to the flats of other citizens who either left the city or died. And the third, to go live in a «maneuverable residence».

Hanna (name changed for the woman’s safety), a 65-year-old local resident who has not left Mariupol since the full-scale invasion began, said her flat had been demolished. Currently, she lives with her daughter in a private house, which is insulated from coal and firewood. She talked about her friends who were lucky enough to find themselves in good conditions.

“My house has already been demolished, and before that it was robbed while I was hiding in the basement. I was not given a new flat because both owners are abroad. But my friends whose houses survived have gas, heat, water, and electricity. For example, my mother-in-law had a window and door installed, heating pipes and batteries were changed. Everything is plastered, even swept after the work is done. Neighbors were given a flat, soon it will be re-registered for them”.

Food prices in Mariupol

Let’s return to the flats that are distributed to the residents of Mariupol. It is worth remembering that Russia stole them from people who left the city or from the dead. It is illegal to settle new people there. However, the Russian mass media do not forget to boast that they «provided» flats for civilians, but they forget to mention who they belong to.

In «maneuverable flats», the situation with everyday life is radically different from how it was described by the Russian mass media. The elevators do not work, and despite this, the elderly and people with limited mobility are accommodated on the highest floors. You can’t cook in the kitchen, so you need to find a café nearby, because you can only sleep in the room.

«It is forbidden to close the room. Constant checks of documents, personal belongings, searches. Checks for presence in the room three times will record the absence go to the street. Electrical appliances are prohibited. Even TVs. When the heating is turned off (and it is turned off systemically) you cannot turn on the electric heater», writes Andryushchenko.


Overdue brotherly love, or what are people fed in Mariupol?

Vitaly Falkovskiy said that there is discrimination based on Ukrainian passports in the city. Ukrainians are paid 2-3 times fewer salaries and pensions than Russians, which were significantly increased after the occupation of the city. 

Andryushchenko also emphasized this problem. He said that from February 1, 2023, elderly people and other persons who receive payments from Ukraine will no longer be able to do so without a Russian passport. In this way, people are deprived of a resource for survival and put under pressure.

“Unfortunately, Ukrainians are forced to receive this piece of paper. The occupiers have several motives. The main thing is to show that people want to live in Russia. That they did not come to seize them, but that the people themselves wanted it, that they would come to them and be ready to become citizens. It does not. Every resident of Mariupol who came, which is almost 200,000 people, can confirm this. The people who stay there, most of them, have become hostages of the situation that happened»,  – said Vitaly Falkovskiy.

He also added that people hide their Ukrainian passports and tell the occupiers that they were burned or lost. They do this because the Russians take away Ukrainian passports when they issue Russian ones. People still wait and believe in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and do not want to say goodbye to the documents.

«Humanitarian aid» from Russia comes to the city, but most of the aid was simply stolen from Ukrainian convoys in the spring

Hanna said that so far she managed to receive her pension with a Ukrainian passport without any problems. However, she confirmed her words about discrimination.

“I am 65 years old, I do not work anywhere, and I receive a pension of 10 thousand rubles. Until the new year, the daughter worked as a cleaner in the city and received 30 thousand rubles. She has been sitting at home for a month, but from February 1, 2023, she will return to work, now officially, through the labor exchange. The documents were signed today. Now it’s hard for everyone, especially pensioners, they have to save a lot and stand in queues for a humanitarian».

The humanitarian award, which the woman recently received, included: 8 cans of veal stew, 2 cans of condensed milk, 1 liter of oil, 2 kilograms of pasta, 2 kilograms of rice, 2 kilograms of sugar, 2 kilograms of flour and 2 loaves of bread. All this is issued per month.

The quality of Russian canned food: expired and unfit for food

Petro Andryushchenko best described the situation with the quality of products distributed by Russian «volunteers» in humanitarian aid. He recently published an example of stew being given to people. It expired in February 2022. The “Yabluchko” humanitarian center offers smelly canned food with the taste of rot, covering it up with good intentions. According to Andryushchenko, the normal stew was stolen by the representatives of the occupation authorities, and this poison slipped in its place.

In addition, to get such a «delicacy» people have to stand in a huge queue in the cold. Sometimes the number of people reaches 500 people. Instead of organizing the distribution of food indoors, the «volunteers» deliberately force mostly elderly people to stand in the cold for a long time.

The director of the communications department of Mariupol said that Ukraine tried to transfer many humanitarian workers to the city in the spring of 2022.

“The entire convoy of humanitarian aid was robbed, almost completely. The cars themselves were not allowed to go to Mariupol, and then they passed off what they stole as their humanitarian aid. They were handing it out, and on the package «flour» was written in Ukrainian. If humanitarian aid from Russia was in the proper amount, then there would not be long queues and even fights, which are in many queues for humanitarian aid».

Why are people forced to stand in queues for low-quality humanitarian aid, which may not be enough for everyone? Because of the same discrimination in salary, which we wrote about above. For example, prices in pharmacies are 2–5 times higher than the adequate norm. The situation with food products and other services is no better. People cannot afford to buy food. Hanna shared her receipts from the store.

Falkovsky also briefly described the situation regarding the safety of civilians in the city, the situation is difficult. First, the number of road accidents has increased, because the cars are mostly owned by military personnel and collaborators who do not follow traffic rules. Secondly, there is no police or anything like it in Mariupol, so no one protects the locals. Thirdly, there are a very large number of drunken people with weapons on the streets, so girls are not recommended to go alone and walk in the evening — no one will be able to help.


The world community also did not remain aloof from the Mariupol problem. For example, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, gave a speech on June 16, 2022 about the life of civilians in the city. She strongly condemned the crimes committed by Russians in the occupied territories and emphasized that this is a direct violation of international human rights. Also, the publication by «Humans Rights Watch» emphasized the need to hold Russia accountable for its actions through an international court. The whole world recognized Russian abuse of civilians as terrorism.


Tetyana Stelmakh

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