(Lviv) – Trinta e dois civis que conseguiram escapar da cidade sitiada de Mariupol, no sudeste da Ucrânia, na semana passada, contaram à Human Rights Watch como lutaram para sobreviver em temperaturas abaixo de zero enquanto as forças russas atacavam implacavelmente a cidade. Eles descreveram homens, mulheres e crianças abrigados em porões com pouco ou nenhum acesso a água corrente, energia, aquecimento, assistência médica ou serviço de telefonia móvel desde o início do cerco em 2 de março de 2022.
As forças russas que cercam Mariupol devem imediatamente garantir que não seja negado ou impedido o acesso a itens essenciais a sobrevivência aos civis, como água, alimentos e remédios, e devem facilitar a passagem segura para áreas sob controle das forças ucranianas para civis que optam por deixar a cidade.
“Os moradores de Mariupol descreveram a paisagem como infernalmente congelante, repleta de cadáveres e prédios destruídos”, disse Belkis Wille, pesquisador sênior de crises e conflitos da Human Rights Watch. “E estes tiveram sorte, pois conseguiram escapar, deixando para trás milhares que estão isolados do mundo na cidade sitiada.”
O atual número de mortos em Mariupol permanece desconhecido. Um assistente do prefeito da cidade, Petro Andryushchenko, disse à Human Rights Watch em 20 de março que mais de 3.000 civis podem ter morrido desde o início dos combates, mas ele disse que o número exato não é claro. As autoridades locais relataram que pelo menos 80% dos edifícios residenciais da cidade foram danificados ou destruídos. A Human Rights Watch não conseguiu verificar esses números ou avaliar quantos dos mortos eram civis.
Nos dias 16 e 17 de março, a Human Rights Watch entrevistou pessoalmente 30 moradores de Mariupol em um centro de registro improvisado em Zaporizhzhia, uma cidade a cerca de 220 quilômetros a noroeste de Mariupol. Eles estavam entre os vários milhares de moradores de Mariupol que fugiram da cidade nos dias 15 e 16 de março em comboios organizados de forma independente com carros particulares, em viagens que duravam entre 24 e 72 horas. A Human Rights Watch também entrevistou um casal em Zaporizhzhia que estava esperando que seus dois filhos chegassem de Mariupol. Somente em 16 de março, ao menos 3.200 pessoas de Mariupol chegaram a Zaporizhzhia, segundo dois funcionários locais que trabalham no centro de registro. A Human Rights Watch conversou por telefone com outros dois moradores de Mariupol que conseguiram escapar da cidade.
“As últimas duas semanas foram puro horror”, disse um diretor de escola de Mariupol à Human Rights Watch. “Saímos porque nossa cidade não existe mais.” Uma mulher de 32 anos que fugiu para Zaporizhzhia com seus três filhos disse que, quando partiram, sua casa em Mariupol estava tão danificada que parecia uma peneira, coberta de buracos causados pelos ataques persistentes. Uma mulher de 64 anos disse: “Acho que aqueles que sobrarem serão mortos ou morrerão de fome. Não temos para onde voltar.”
Mariupol é uma cidade costeira entre duas regiões atualmente sob o controle efetivo das forças russas. Desde aproximadamente de 2 de março, as forças russas cercaram completamente a cidade e bloquearam o porto. Relatos de combates no centro da cidade surgiram nos últimos dias, e muitos dos moradores que fugiram disseram ter visto soldados russos e ucranianos e equipamentos militares em seus bairros. Andryushchenko disse à Human Rights Watch que, em 20 de março, pelo menos 200.000, do total de 400.000 habitantes de antes o início da guerra, permanecem na cidade.
Moradores que escaparam disseram que hospitais, escolas, lojas e inúmeras casas foram danificadas ou destruídas pelos bombardeios. Muitos disseram que seus familiares ou vizinhos sofreram ferimentos graves e, em alguns casos, fatais por fragmentos metálicos de explosivos e que viram cadáveres espalhados pelas estradas quando ao se arriscarem para procurar comida ou água ou para encontrar sinal para seus telefones celulares.
A incapacidade de se comunicar com parentes, amigos e o mundo externo era um desafio particular para as pessoas em Mariupol. Quase todas as torres de telefonia celular pararam de fornecer sinal em 2 de março, com apenas sinais fracos em locais específicos depois disso. Uma designer gráfica disse que todos os dias ela caminhava dois quilômetros e meio em direção a uma torre de celular Kyivstar para tentar obter recepção, deitando-se no chão toda vez que um avião sobrevoava.
Todos os entrevistados apontaram que a falta de informação causada por rupturas nas telecomunicações e na eletricidade tornou muito difícil descobrir como evacuar a cidade com segurança.
Os entrevistados descreveram ter ficado em porões por dias em condições de superlotação e insalubridade, sem poder tomar banho e com pouco para comer ou beber. Uma mulher disse que ficou por duas semanas em um porão que tinha cerca de 300 metros quadrados com pelo menos 80 pessoas; um homem ficou com 50 pessoas em um porão de 50 metros quadrados; e outro homem disse que ficou com 18 pessoas em um porão de 10 metros quadrados.
Idosos e pessoas com deficiência descreveram os desafios adicionais que enfrentaram: incapazes de se mudar para seus porões para se abrigar, eles se sentaram em seus apartamentos com janelas estouradas e paredes vibrando a cada ataque. Um homem de 82 anos que ficou em seu apartamento no sexto andar desde que os ataques começaram, disse que se distraiu limpando os cacos de vidro que cobriam o chão: “Eu tremia enquanto as bombas caíam. As paredes estavam tremendo, e eu estava com medo de que o prédio desmoronasse. Mas passei meus dias tentando limpar os cacos de vidro. Eu estava apenas limpando, eu tinha que me ocupar de alguma forma. Era inútil, mas era tudo o que eu podia fazer para me manter ocupado.”
Em 9 de março, as forças russas atacaram um complexo hospitalar em Mariupol, ferindo pelo menos 17 civis, incluindo equipe médica e mulheres grávidas. Uma mulher grávida teria morrido em decorrência de lesões depois de ser transferida para outro hospital após o ataque. A Human Rights Watch verificou e analisou 7 vídeos e 10 fotografias mostrando as consequências do ataque, incluindo a destruição a fachada inteira do hospital infantil, marcas aparentes de fragmentação na fachada da maternidade vizinha e uma grande cratera de impacto da detonação de uma munição lançada do ar na parte sul do pátio. A Rússia mais tarde confirmou que tinha como alvo o hospital, alegando que forças ucranianas o ocupavam e que haviam alertado os civis para deixarem o local. A Human Rights Watch não conseguiu verificar essas alegações.
Em 16 de março, um teatro em Mariupol que abrigava pelo menos 500 pessoas foi atacado. Nas imagens de satélite do teatro de 14 de março, era nitidamente visível a palavra “crianças” escrito em russo em letras maiúsculas da escrita cirílica no chão na frente e atrás do teatro. Uma mãe e o filho que se abrigaram no teatro por duas semanas disse que centenas de pessoas ainda estavam nele quando eles tinham saído, às 9h do dia 16 de março, poucas horas antes do ataque. Parece que a maioria das pessoas abrigadas no teatro sobreviveram pois estavam escondidas no porão, de acordo com as autoridades locais. O Ministério da Defesa russo negou ter realizado o ataque e culpou as forças apoiadas pelo governo ucraniano.
As forças russas e ucranianas concordaram com os termos de um cessar-fogo temporário e a criação de um corredor humanitário em 4 de março para permitir que os civis evacuem de Mariupol com segurança. Pelo menos sete esforços iniciais para cumprir o acordo e facilitar as evacuações falharam e o cessar-fogo foi quebrado.
De acordo com Kirill Timoshenko, vice-chefe de gabinete do presidente da Ucrânia, pelo menos 9.000 moradores de Mariupol conseguiram fugir para Zaporizhzhia usando um corredor humanitário acordado nos dias anteriores. No entanto, o assistente do prefeito, Andryushchenko, disse que o acordo cobria apenas um corredor entre a cidade de Berdyansk, controlada pela Rússia, 65 quilômetros a sudoeste de Mariupol, e Zaporizhzhia. Ele disse que a rota que sai de Mariupol para Berdyansk ainda está sujeita a fortes ataques e que os civis não receberam nenhuma garantia específica com relação a um corredor humanitário ou passagem segura para esse trecho.
Em 19 de março, as autoridades locais em Mariupol relataram que as forças russas levaram “entre 4.000 e 4.500 moradores de Mariupol foram forçados a cruzar a fronteira” para o sudoeste da Rússia. O Ministério da Defesa russo anunciou em 20 de março que cerca de 60.000 moradores de Mariupol foram “evacuados para a Rússia” nos últimos três dias, e que os moradores de Mariupol têm uma “escolha voluntária” sobre qual corredor utilizar ou permanecer na cidade. A Human Rights Watch não conseguiu verificar essas informações. Se os residentes de Mariupol foram transferidos à força para a Rússia, isso pode constituir um crime de guerra. De acordo com o Direito Internacional Humanitário, a transferência de civis, individualmente ou em massa, não é voluntária e, portanto, é proibida, simplesmente porque o civil concorda com isso. Uma transferência pode ser forçada quando uma pessoa se oferece como voluntária porque teme consequências como violência, coação ou detenção se permanecer, e a potência ocupante está aproveitando um ambiente coercitivo para realizar a transferência.
Tanto a Rússia quanto a Ucrânia têm obrigações de garantir o acesso de civis à assistência humanitária e tomar todas as medidas viáveis para permitir que a população civil evacue com segurança, se assim o desejarem, independentemente de um acordo para estabelecer corredores humanitários entrar em vigor ou não. A Rússia está proibida de exigir que civis, individualmente ou em massa, evacuem para lugares na Rússia ou em outros países como a Bielorrússia.
O uso de armas explosivas com impacto de ampla área em zonas povoadas aumenta as preocupações de ataques ilegais, indiscriminados e desproporcionais. Essas armas têm um grande raio destrutivo, são inerentemente imprecisas ou possuem várias munições ao mesmo tempo. Isso inclui o uso de projéteis de grande calibre não guiados e não observados e bombas de aviação. O uso dessas armas deve ser evitado em áreas populosas.
O Tribunal Penal Internacional, a Comissão de Inquérito do Conselho de Direitos Humanos da ONU e outras jurisdições relevantes devem investigar possíveis crimes de guerra em Mariupol, com o objetivo de processar os grandes responsáveis, disse a Human Rights Watch.
“Para aqueles que conseguiram escapar de Mariupol, deixando amigos e familiares para trás, as notícias das recentes evacuações lhes deram um pouco de esperança de que seus entes amados poderia deixar a cidade vivos”, disse Wille. “As forças russas e ucranianas devem urgentemente fazer o que for preciso para proteger os civis que permanecem em Mariupol e permitir que aqueles que desejam deixar a cidade sitiada o façam em segurança”.
Para relatos de moradores de Mariupol que conseguiram escapar e uma visão geral das obrigações legais relevantes, veja abaixo em inglês.
Accounts from Mariupol Residents
Those interviewed are either not identified by name or identified by their first names only for their protection.
Explosive Weapons with Wide-Area Effects
All 32 Mariupol residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch described periods of sustained and often intensifying attacks with explosive weapons, from the beginning of fighting on February 24 to the moment they fled the city. Witnesses described attacks that killed and injured their neighbors as they took shelter in their homes, prepared food, and fetched water, throwing them from buildings and piercing them with fragments. The attacks also destroyed and damaged homes, businesses, and critical civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools, collapsing and burning buildings in numerous parts of the city. The descriptions of the attacks and their effects are consistent with the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects.
Serhii, a shipping inspector, said he was on the balcony of his father’s apartment, when a detonation occurred, catapulting a man out of the window of the building next door and to the ground outside, killing him. The same attack started a fire in one of the stairwells of his father’s building. “We don’t know if there were casualties because that part of the building collapsed, and no one could search for people in the rubble because of the constant shelling,” he said. Several days after that incident, he said: “I was just coming out of the building carrying some water, and I saw [a neighbor’s] body … His dead body was just lying there, with his intestines hanging out.”
Several residents described attacks that killed or injured people as they were on their way to get what little food was available, or to collect water from nearby rivers or springs.
One man said that three women were on their way to buy bread when an attack took place, killing one of the women, tearing off her hands, and seriously injuring the two others. He said he started to take one woman who had a serious stomach wound to the hospital until he came across Ukrainian soldiers who said they would take her to get treatment.
A 37-year-old man described how his neighbor was killed. “On March 8, an attack hit while a young man from our building was outside trying to start a fire to cook,” he explained. “He was pierced by pieces of metal, including to his heart, and he died. Because of the continued attacks, his family has not been able to bury him yet, so his body is still in a van outside.”
A doctor from Mariupol said that the hospital where she worked was damaged in an attack on March 10. The hospital had been closed since February 24. A school principal said that two munitions exploded in the yard of his school on March 15. “A lot of windows were broken,” he said, adding that dozens of other schools in the city were also damaged.
Access to Water and Sanitation
Everyone interviewed said that running water had stopped in the city on or around March 2, and that they had not been able to shower since. To try to get potable and non-potable water, they waited in line for up to six hours at fresh springs and at water trucks in the city, melted snow, collected buckets of rainwater, or flushed out their buildings’ heating systems.
One man, Valery, said that on March 8, International Women’s Day, the men sheltering in his basement collected as much snow as possible to melt and boil over a fire, so that the women and children could wash themselves.
Some people said they had to defecate in buckets. One woman said the 30 people sheltering in her basement had only one bucket.
Access to Food
Those interviewed said they survived on food that they had at home before the fighting started and shared their dwindling stocks with those sheltering with them. Once looters had broken into shops, some said, they also went in and stole food. However, many of those interviewed owned personal vehicles and had considerable stockpiles of foodstuffs, so their experience was not necessarily representative of the experience of other civilians remaining in the city.
Viktoria, a graphic designer, said that her family and her neighbor’s family eventually only had expired cans of paté left to eat, with the adults eating only one meal a day. Several families said they ran out of baby formula early on. Everyone said they cooked their food on open fires in the yards outside their buildings, or in kitchens that were near their basements.
Several people interviewed who had been sheltering in larger basements with more people said that volunteers, the military, and the police sometimes came to their basements to deliver some food, water, and medicine.
None of those interviewed said they saw Russian forces distributing aid at any point. According to Ukrainian authorities, a convoy of humanitarian vehicles trying to bring aid into Mariupol was stuck in the Russian-controlled city of Berdyansk, 65 kilometers southwest of Mariupol, as of March 15. The convoy had reportedly turned back by March 20 without reaching Mariupol or delivering the aid.
Access to Electricity
Everyone interviewed said they lost electricity on around March 2. Valery said his basement had a generator, but it was destroyed in an attack on March 10. One woman noted that, even in those buildings with generators, families eventually ran out of fuel for them to run.
Human Rights Watch recognizes that the internationally protected right to an adequate standard of living includes everyone’s right, without discrimination, to sufficient, reliable, safe, clean, accessible, and affordable electricity. Access to electricity is critical to ensuring other basic rights, including but not limited to the rights to health, housing, and water. Steps should be taken to restore reliable electricity access for civilians to safeguard their other basic rights.
Access to Information
Once Mariupol was besieged, people in the city lost access to phone lines, television, and most local radio stations (with the exception of some medium wave stations that were faint). They had no ability to access information about what was happening inside or outside the city. Everyone interviewed said that this lack of information was one of the things that made it the most difficult for them to figure out how to leave the city safely.
Valery said he lived in a building next to a mobile phone tower, which initially gave him a weak signal. But after several attacks next to the tower, including the one that destroyed his building’s generator, the tower itself was hit on March 10, and the signal was completely gone.
In an example of how residents struggled to reach their loved ones, Ganna, an anesthesiologist, showed researchers a picture she had taken of a piece of paper that a mother had stuck to a water cistern in the city, where many people were going to fetch water, hoping her daughters might see it. “We made it out of the left [bank], now in Kirovskii [neighborhood] at Natasha's,” the note said.
Serhii, a factory foreman, and his wife were waiting at the reception center in Zaporizhzhia for their daughter, son, and grandson. They said they had not heard from them for eight days, and only found out they were alive the night before, when their children called them from a city between Mariupol and Zaporizhzhia. “You see how grey my hair is?” Serhii said. “It turned grey in these 8 days.”
Russian forces took over local radio broadcasts just after they encircled the city, and they sent text messages to those inside the city, which came through when residents happened to pick up a signal. One man said that he heard Russian forces announcing on the radio: “Give up soldiers. Come out with a white flag on your gun, leaning it onto your left shoulder and approach us and we guarantee food, clothes, and will let you join your family after the fighting stops.”
Two people said that at one point when their phones were on, they received text messages that they assumed had been sent by the Russian forces. Ina, the graphic designer, said she received a message from the number 777 that read: “Ukrainian army surrender.”
Those interviewed said they did not receive any messages directed at civilians warning them to take precautions prior to attacks or about access to humanitarian assistance or routes for safe passage.
Access to Health Care
Some people interviewed said they did not know whether any hospitals in the city were functioning, while others said that they had heard of one or two civilian and military hospitals that were still open, but with wait times spanning days. Human Rights Watch spoke to the daughter of a man who lost his eye after an explosion on March 6, which also damaged their home. When they rushed him to the hospital, she said there was no running water and limited electricity from their generators that they were using only to perform life-saving operations.
Andri, an engineer, said his home was about 200 meters from the main hospital in Mariupol that was treating Covid-19 patients. He said that on March 12, staff at the hospital told him that they had run out of oxygen days earlier and as a result people with serious respiratory symptoms were dying.
One man working as a volunteer delivering aid to shelters said that several people had come into the basement where he was sheltering with wounds from metal fragments caused by explosions. They were unable to make it to a hospital. “Sometimes the ambulance started driving toward us, but then had to turn back because of the shelling and come back later,” he said.
Oksana, a wheelchair user who cannot walk since an accident 17 years ago, has been on daily medication to treat thyroid cancer for the past six years. She said she ran out of her medicine soon after the fighting started, when the pharmacies had already been looted and emptied out. She went to the hospital near her home that was open, but doctors there said they had run out of the medication she was on and gave her a substitute. She has no idea what the impact of being off her required medication for so long will mean for her future.
Mykola, the principal, said that even though his school had sheltered up to 200 people, they only had basic medicine there and the teachers, all trained in first aid, had to start acting as medics. “We gave medical assistance as we could with the means that we had,” he said.
A medic working at the reception center in Zaporizhzhia said that 55 people had been treated at their makeshift clinic, and that one woman who arrived on March 15 with a serious wound caused on March 8 by a metal fragment, had to be rushed straight to the hospital. On March 17, the World Health Organization expressed concern that there is “the potential for multidrug-resistant infections” in the case of such injuries “given the previous high rates of over-the-counter antimicrobials, and limited access to treatments.”
The Route Out
Following what residents described as days of especially heavy shelling on March 13 and 14, some of them with access to private cars decided to try to leave the city on their own, despite the ongoing shelling and needing to pass through Russian checkpoints. A convoy of about 160 cars left Mariupol on March 14, and hundreds more left on March 15. Serhii, the shipping inspector, told Human Rights Watch he estimated that, for each car in Mariupol that still functioned, he had seen at least 50 other cars destroyed during the bombardment, seriously limiting the ability of many Mariupol residents to escape.
Residents described passing through between 15 and 20 Russian military checkpoints between Mariupol and Zaporizhzhia. They all said that Russian soldiers either asked for the documents of the driver or for everyone’s documents. Serhii said the soldiers were paying particular attention to the registered address that is written in Ukrainian passports to see if people were from Mariupol or elsewhere. “I suspect they did this because, if they came across a man not from Mariupol, they would assume he was a soldier,” he said. The Russian forces also made Serhii expose his shoulders, apparently to look for signs of bruising which might indicate that a person had used a firearm. Another resident said that they inspected the hands of the adult men for signs that they had been fighting or using a weapon.
Four people interviewed said that soldiers inspected their phones at the checkpoints, something that they had heard might happen, so they had deleted any photos of the damage from Russian forces’ bombardment in Mariupol before leaving the city. At one checkpoint, a Russian soldier asked Olexsandr if he had any “forbidden” photos on his phone. “I asked him what was considered forbidden, and the soldier told me any photos of any Russian military vehicles,” Olexsandr said. He had wiped his phone before passing through the checkpoints.
None of the Mariupol residents described serious mistreatment by soldiers at the checkpoints. One of them said that the Russian soldiers treated everyone in his car correctly, but several people were detained from the vehicle that was two cars ahead of them at the checkpoint. When that car made it to the checkpoint, he said, the soldiers fired their weapons in the air after what seemed to be a verbal altercation. One soldier then dragged a man out of the car, bent him over a barricade, and fired a weapon over his head. After that, everyone in the car was detained. The witness did not know what had led to the detentions or what happened to those who were detained.
Another person said his car was fired upon, he presumed by Russian forces because he was driving through an area fully under Russian control, but it was too dark to see. Later he examined the car and said the side had been pierced by a metal fragment. Mykola, the principal, said that between Mariupol and exiting the area under Russian control, he saw at least 10 burned cars on the sides of the road or in fields, and in one case, he saw a dead body lying next to a burned-out car.
Those Left Behind
As of March 17, several thousand residents – a small fraction of the residents still trapped in Mariupol by the intense fighting – were able to flee. Everyone interviewed said that they had only been able to leave because they had their own car or were able to find a ride with someone who did, and that many people with whom they had sheltered in basements and those with limited mobility had stayed behind.
Because electricity and telecommunications are not functioning, those who were able to leave had no information about those who are still in the city. One woman who was able to find a ride said she was forced to leave her mother who could not make it down the stairs to the shelter in her wheelchair.
Ina said that she left with about 16 other people, and about 65 others remained in the basement where they were sheltering. “As we were leaving, we noticed there was only about two-days’ worth of food stocks left for everyone, so I don’t know what will happen to them,” she said.
Mykola said at one point his school, where he was sheltering, had housed 200 people. When he left, he said at least 50 people remained in the school with no means of transport out.
Several residents cited locations housing hundreds of people at the time they left the city, and they were worried that these areas might come under attack.
Legal Obligations and Relevant International Humanitarian Law
Sieges directed at military targets, which includes enemy forces, and for the purpose of capturing an enemy-controlled area, are permitted under the laws of war, as a legitimate military objective. Siege tactics cannot include starving a civilian population or attacking, destroying, removing, or rendering useless objects indispensable to the civilian population’s survival. Deliberate employment of such tactics is a war crime. Tactics that arbitrarily deny civilians access to items essential for their well-being such as water, food, and medicine are also prohibited, and all parties should protect objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, including those necessary for water distribution and sanitation.
The laws of war prohibit deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects and attacks that cause anticipated harm to civilians disproportionate to the expected military benefit. Unlawful and wanton excessive destruction of property, not militarily justified, is a war crime. Both parties are required, as far as feasible, to take necessary precautions to protect the civilian population, individual civilians, and civilian objects under their control against the dangers resulting from military operations.
Evacuations of civilians in and around Mariupol who want to leave, should be facilitated. When an agreement to establish humanitarian corridors is put into effect, parties should not breach that agreement in any way that places civilians at risk. All parties must abide by their obligations not to carry out attacks that would target or cause harm to civilians who are on the move, including along railway and road routes being used to leave. Parties should allow access for neutral and independent humanitarian actors to support civilians at particular risk who may need assistance to leave, including people with disabilities, older people, pregnant people, children, and people with chronic or severe medical conditions.
Parties to the conflict are prohibited from deporting or forcibly transferring the civilian population of an occupied territory, in whole or in part, unless it is demanded by civilian security or imperative military reasons. The fourth Geneva Convention prohibits individual or mass forcible transfers of civilians from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power or any other country, occupied or not, regardless of their motive. If for material reasons it is impossible to avoid such displacement, provisional, temporary evacuations may occur, but those evacuated must be transferred back to their homes as soon as the specific hostilities in the area in question have ceased. Violation of this prohibition is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and prosecutable as a war crime. The International Criminal Court, which has opened an investigation into potential war crimes in Ukraine, can prosecute the war crime of “the deportation or transfer [by the Occupying Power] of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.”
Ukraine, and Russia in the areas that it currently controls access to or occupies, should ensure that there is adequate supply of food, water, and medicine, and that services vital for the civilian population continue.
Both parties should abide by obligations to allow and facilitate the rapid passage of humanitarian aid for all civilians in need and not deny access or arbitrarily interfere with distribution. Starving civilians as a method of warfare is a war crime.