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'The Russians were hunting us down': How the last journalists to leave Mariupol escaped

The horrors of a city under siege with fiery death raining down from the sky have been recounted by the last journalists to leave Mariupol.

Associated Press (AP) video journalist Mstyslav Chernov spent weeks dodging shells and explosions along with his photographer colleague Evgeniy Maloletka, as they relentlessly documented what was happening inside the besieged port city in southeast Ukraine.

On 9 March, they witnessed the heartbreaking sight of smoke rising from Mariupol’s bombed maternity hospital as emergency services pulled bloodied pregnant women from the ruins.

“This will change the course of the war,” a police officer told them.

This map shows the targets of Russian strikes in Mariupol

The attack on the maternity hospital has been branded a war crime by the UK, and the images and reports of the destruction have sparked international condemnation.

Ukraine has refused to give up Mariupol, with the country’s deputy prime minister and an adviser to the city’s mayor both saying there would be “no talk of any surrender” or the “laying down of arms”.

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Mariupol hospital an ‘image of hell’

In a dramatic account of his time reporting from inside the siege, Mr Chernov said: “We watched smoke rise from a maternity hospital.

“When we arrived, emergency workers were still pulling bloodied pregnant women from the ruins.”

When the police officer urged them to tell the world about what happened at the hospital, the AP journalist was unsure what the impact would be.

“We had recorded so many dead people and dead children, an endless line,” he said. “I didn’t understand why he thought still more deaths could change anything.

“I was wrong.”

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• Joe Biden will travel to Poland this week to discuss “humanitarian and human rights crisis”
• Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency says radiation monitors around Chernobyl have stopped working
• Ammonia leak at a chemical plant on the outskirts of the eastern city of Sumy now contained
10,200 visas have been issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme, says the Home Office

A woman holds a child in an improvised bomb shelter in Mariupol, Ukraine, Monday, March 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
A woman holds a child in an improvised bomb shelter in Mariupol. Pic: AP/Mstyslav Chernov

‘The Russians were hunting us down’

​​​In the lengthy AP piece, relayed to colleagues in Paris, the journalists recall seeking out patchy internet connections to share their stories with the world, all the while just seconds away from possible death by shelling.

But they knew that artillery fire was not the only thing endangering them, Mr Chernov says.

“The Russians were hunting us down. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in.”

As they reported from inside a hospital, a group of soldiers burst in at dawn, asking for the journalists.

“I looked at their armbands, blue for Ukraine, and tried to calculate the odds that they were Russians in disguise.

“I stepped forward to identify myself. ‘We’re here to get you out,’ they said.”

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Ukrainian doesn’t know if Mariupol family is alive

A police officer urged them to leave, afraid that if captured by Russian forces they would be forced to go on camera to say that everything they filmed was a lie, Mr Chernov said.

There followed a nerve-wracking escape from the city, through over a dozen Russian checkpoints, until finally they reached Ukrainian lines.

“We were the last journalists in Mariupol. Now there are none.”

The Great Debate airs on Sky News at 9pm on Monday


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