Mar 21, 2022 - World

AP journalists detail harrowing escape from Mariupol


Civilians trapped in Mariupol are evacuated under the control of pro-Russian separatists on March 20. Photo: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Associated Press videographer Mstyslav Chernov detailed the harrowing steps he and his colleague, AP photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, took to escape from the besieged port city of Mariupol in an essay published by the AP on Monday.

Driving the news: Mariupol has been under siege by Russian forces for weeks and has sustained devastating attacks on civilians, with targets including a children's hospital, a local theater, and an art school.

The big picture: Chernov recounted that he and Maloletka were the last international journalists left in Mariupol. "Now there are none," he wrote.

  • The pair arrived in Mariupol in the early morning on Feb. 24, just an hour before the start of the war.
  • "One bomb at a time, the Russians cut electricity, water, food supplies and finally, crucially, the cell phone, radio and television towers," Chernov recalled. "The few other journalists in the city got out before the last connections were gone and a full blockade settled in."

Chernov and Maloletka's ability to document the events of the war, despite Russian forces' attempts to cut off communication with the outside world in an effort to achieve "impunity," made them Russian targets.

  • Chernov recounts how he and Maloletka sought shelter in a Ukrainian hospital, where staff gave them surgical scrubs to wear as camouflage. Russian forces outside had covered the path to their car and equipment with a sniper. They "had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in," Chernov wrote.
  • Eventually a team of Ukrainian soldiers arrived at the hospital to help them escape.

What they're saying: "Time was measured from one shell to the next, our bodies tense and breath held. Shockwave after shockwave jolted my chest, and my hands went cold," Chernov recalled.

  • “If they catch you, they will get you on camera and they will make you say that everything you filmed is a lie,” a Ukrainian officer told them. “All your efforts and everything you have done in Mariupol will be in vain.”
  • The soldiers took them to a queue of cars preparing to evacuate the city. The journalists squeezed into a car with a Ukrainian family to attempt the journey out of Mariupol.
  • Chernov recounts how as they passed through 15 Russian checkpoints — "all manned with soldiers with heavy weapons" — his "hopes that Mariupol was going to survive were fading."

The bottom line: "As we pulled up to the sixteenth checkpoint, we heard voices. Ukrainian voices. I felt an overwhelming relief. The mother in the front of the car burst into tears. We were out."

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