People Are Depressed Life Under Russian Occupation in Mariupol G1

“People Are Depressed”: Life Under Russian Occupation in Mariupol G1

A man sits on a bench near a destroyed building in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine May 9, 2022 Photo: Portal/Alexander Ermochenko A man sits on a bench near a destroyed building in Mariupol May 9, 2022 eastern Ukraine. 2022 Photo: Portal/Alexander Ermochenko

“Even if my place of residence still existed, I don’t know if I could still live there most likely not,” says Viktoria*. A year ago she fled Mariupol, now occupied by the Russians, and went to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

After the Russian attacks on Mariupol, the Victoria building in the city was set on fire. But her father stayed in town anyway. When his health deteriorated, she decided to go there to help him.

Back in Kiev, she told DW about her sevenday odyssey to the devastated city. In order not to have to go through the war front, Viktoria decided to reach Mariupol through Russia.

But in Briansk, Russian border guards did not let her in because of her Ukrainian passport, and in Smolensk, an agent of the Russian secret service FSB told her in a new attempt that her stay in Russia was inappropriate.

Eventually she got to Russia via Latvia and Belarus. Traveling within Russia was easier, he says.

Due to the lack of specialist doctors in Mariupol, she was forced to travel with her father to the Russian city of Taganrog to operate on him. The journey, which passed several checkpoints, went smoothly.

“A Struggle for Survival”

Viktoria reports that what impressed her most was what she saw in Mariupol: a year after the Russian bombings, little had changed at the scene of the destruction. “It’s true that they build, but they also destroyed everything themselves! They are tearing down the damaged buildings and building new ones elsewhere.”

It seemed to her that only a third of the city’s former residents remained.

There is practically only employment in the construction industry, in public administration and in trade, he says. Many construction workers come from Russia and are better paid than local people. The major steel mills and industrial machinery manufacturers, once the Ukrainian city’s largest employers, remain closed, as they have been since the Russian offensive in Ukraine began on February 24.

Viktoria says there is no social assistance, not even for the unemployed, and the number of humanitarian aids has fallen sharply. “Basic food packets used to be distributed to everyone, but now it’s just children and people over 65. People are depressed. It’s a fight for survival.”

Russia promised a pension increase after announcing the illegal annexation of the Mariupol region in 2022.

According to her, initially all pensioners received pensions in the amount of 10,700 rubles [cerca de R$ 660]. Then Ukrainian pensions were doubled and converted into rubles. After all, a Russian passport is required to receive the Russian state pension, which several witnesses confirmed to DW.

To make matters worse, prices in Mariupol are much higher than in unoccupied Ukraine and also higher than in Russia itself. Only chicken eggs and petrol are cheaper, says Viktoria.

an environmental disaster

The precarious economic situation is not Mariupol’s only problem, says environmental activist Maksym Borodin, who left the city shortly before the Russian occupation. “Mariupol today is an area of ​​environmental disaster.”

Not to mention the sewage problem. “The Russians wanted to show that civilization had returned with them. So they soon restored the water supply but not the sewage system collapse.”

After that, the Russians began remediation, but the infrastructure is almost completely destroyed, raising the risk of even greater water pollution. There is information about the water quality in the Kalmius River and the Sea of ​​​​Azov.

Employment only for persons with a Russian passport

“People are depressed, you can tell they are suffering. Many drink,” reports Natália*, who lives in a village near Mariupol. Before the war against Russia started, she had her own business selling meat and milk. But many of his customers have left, and most of those left behind have no money. And she cannot bring her products to Mariupol, since her car was destroyed in the war.

Natália complains about high prices and low wages. “Initially, people received about 30,000 rubles [cerca de R$ 1.800]. Then salaries were cut by more than half and not paid for a month and a half.”

At the same time, the pressure on the Ukrainians who remained in the city to accept a Russian passport increased. “To work officially you need a Russian passport, and to get one you have to stand in line, retrieve lost documents and have them translated into Russian.”

She says that an acquaintance who wanted to renew the car’s papers heard from a Russian official: “Here you are a foreigner.” And he was forced to tick the “Foreign passport” option.

And yet most of the people in her village are proRussian. “People believe the Russian propaganda that it was Ukraine that destroyed Mariupol. A friend got a residency in Mariupol and is very grateful to Russia. But there are also those who have no accommodation and therefore do not want to apply for a residence. They do not want to get anything from the occupying power.”

Fear of a subpoena

Natalia says that in Mariupol she didn’t hear anything about a call for war. But in the areas of Donetsk that have been occupied since 2014, many men fear being called to war. In February 2022, just before the invasion, there was a conscription in Donbass.

One of those who fear the summons is Vladislav from the town of Chistyakove. “I hid indoors from drafting for almost a year. There is no way I want to be sent to fight against my own country.” He said he believed the subpoenas would continue, albeit at a slower pace.

Like Vladislav, Natalia believes that most people in the region are proRussian. “But the idea that this is Russia is not dominant. Everyone says: ‘I’m going to Russia to buy groceries.’

* Names changed by DW