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“In Mariupol, you can die at any moment”

By Mstyslav Chernov, AP agency

Posted today at 11:54 a.m., updated at 12:12 p.m.

In the early days of the war in Ukraine, in February, reporters from the World recounted the Russian attacks on Mariupol. The big city in the south-east of Ukraine was then undergoing its first bombardments. Then our team left, traveling to document the ordeal experienced by other cities and towns. Many other media followed this same route, leaving the scene before the exit was blocked by Russian forces. Quickly, the martyred city only had one team of international journalists, that of the Associated Press agency. The world chose to translate the testimony they bring back from their reports under the bombs and the hunt by a Russian army which seeks to impose a total media blackout.

Testimony. The Russians were tracking us. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in. We were the only western journalists still present in Mariupol, and we had been documenting its siege by the Russian army for more than two weeks. We were doing a story at the hospital when armed men started pacing the hallways. The surgeons gave us white coats as camouflage.

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Suddenly, at dawn, a dozen soldiers burst in: “Where the hell are the journalists? » I glanced at their armbands, blue so Ukrainian, but wondered what the chances were that they were Russians in disguise. I took a step forward and stated my identity. “We are here to get you out”they said.

Outside, shell explosions and machine gun fire rattled the walls of the operating theater and it seemed safer to stay inside. But the Ukrainian soldiers had received the order to take us away. We ran out into the streets, abandoning the doctors who had protected us, the pregnant women who had been bombed and the people who were sleeping in the hallways because they had nowhere to go. I was terribly angry with myself for leaving them all there.

Time, punctuated by shells

Nine minutes, maybe ten, an eternity among destroyed streets and buildings. When the shells fell too close, we dropped to the ground. The time was punctuated by the shells, our bodies were tense and we were holding our breath. My chest was shaking with one shock wave after another, and my hands were freezing. We reached an entrance and armored vehicles led us to a dark basement. It was only then that a policeman explained to us why the Ukrainians had risked the lives of soldiers to extract us from the hospital.

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