LVIV, Ukraine – Hundreds of people escaped the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol by car on Monday, according to the local government, even as a convoy of vehicles carrying food, water and medicine slowly tried to find a safe path through the battle raging around the city.
Relatives of those still living in Mariupol said the flight appears to offer the best, and perhaps the only, chance for survival.
“I don’t think the humanitarian convoy will be of much help,” said Oleksandr Kryvoshapro, a humanitarian activist whose parents are in Mariupol. “Too many people are still there. And this once beautiful, large and ever-changing city is now completely destroyed. It is no longer possible to live there. All people must be evacuated.
An estimated 400,000 people are trapped in the city, which is entering its second week without heat, food or clean water. Attempts to reach the town and evacuate people failed day after day amid heavy fighting. The convoy en route Monday was carrying 100 tonnes of relief supplies, officials said.
Russia besieged the city, a major industrial center on the Sea of Azov, creating a humanitarian catastrophe that led the International Committee of the Red Cross to issue an urgent appeal for a ceasefire to help the hundreds of thousands of people with no access to drinking water, food or heat.
“The corpses, of civilians and combatants, remain trapped under the rubble or lie in the open where they fell,” the ICRC said.
The Ukrainian government estimated on Sunday that more than 2,000 people had died, nearly double the estimate the day before.
The hundreds of people who managed to get out on Monday morning left the city in 160 cars and their escape was kept secret until they were judged from a safe distance, according to Ukrainian officials. They were still on the move Monday afternoon, with its exact location and route a guarded secret.
The group was expected to reach the city of Zaporizhzhia, where they will have access to first aid and accommodation. If they did, it would offer a glimmer of hope.
With mass graves now being used to bury the dead in Mariupol and international aid groups warning that large numbers are on the brink of starvation, it remains extremely difficult to get an accurate picture of what was going on there. for almost all communications have been cut off. .
Mr Kryvoshapro, the activist, said his contact with the people inside lasted a few seconds each day when they “went out to a dangerous place where they could find a signal”.
This morning he received good news.
“My friends were able to bring bread to my parents today,” he said. “So as of 10 a.m. I know they were alive.”
That way, he says, he got lucky. “So many people can no longer get in touch with their loved ones,” he said.
Halyna Odnoroh, who is from Mariupol but is now in Zaporizhzhia, said she heard from one of the people who escaped on Monday.
“My co-worker has a friend who is one of the drivers there, and all he could say was they keep pushing forward and trying,” she said.
The hardest part to understand, she added, is that there are so many people struggling to survive. Even if the convoy arrives, hundreds of thousands of people will still be in urgent need of help.