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The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

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Russia plans huge propaganda New Year tree in Mariupol while residents freeze in bombed city

16.12.2022   
Halya Coynash

Mariupol People queuing for something warm to eat in freezing December 2022 temperatures Photo posted by Petro Andriushchenko

Mariupol People queuing for something warm to eat in freezing December 2022 temperatures Photo posted by Petro Andriushchenko
The Russian-installed occupation ‘authorities’ have announced plans to erect a 20-metre New Year tree in the centre of Mariupol, in a move condemned by the real Mariupol City Council as “dancing on the bones” of all the civilians whom Russia killed this year.  The planned children’s ‘tree of wishes’ seems especially cynical, given the number of children who either did not live to see this New Year, or whose only wish can be to have their parents, grandparents and shattered lives back.

Konstantin Ivashchenko, designated by the Russians as the ‘head’ of Mariupol, reported “the good news” on 12 December.  As well as the ‘wishes’ stunt for children, he added, some kids from Mariupol would be spending their ‘winter holidays’ in St Petersburg, which he describes as their ‘brother city’. 

All such stunts are as fake as the staged ‘news reports’ where supposed residents are handed the keys to new apartments or where children in a propaganda class entitled ‘symbol of Russia’ wave ‘happily’ at the camera.  

Such propaganda footage will only work if the TV teams carefully position their cameras so as not to show the devastation surrounding the tree, just as they earlier avoided the obvious questions, such as why these ‘happy children’ were waving at the camera while sitting in a classroom in coats, hats and gloves.

The real images from Mariupol, half a year after the months of siege during which Russia systematically bombed and shelled the city, are very different.   These are just the most recent of images, posted almost daily by Petro Andriushchenko, Adviser to the Mayor of Mariupol, of Mariupol residents standing and freezing for hours in queues for bread and / or bowls of warm porridge. 

If Russia really does erect a New Year tree with lights and decorations, they will glow in cruel mockery of the thousands of residents, eking an existence in apartments that remain without heating, electricity and, often, without running water.  Many of these buildings were damaged in the bombing and are still without windows, or even a proper roof that does not let in the rain or snow.  If ‘workers’ do arrive to fix something, they either achieve nothing, or make empty promises that they will return later and merely put plastic over the windows.

Denis Kazansky, a well-known Ukrainian journalist originally from Donetsk, reports that the reality of life in Russian-occupied Mariupol is a taboo subject on Russian state television.  With desperate residents hanging banners reading ‘We are freezing. HELP!’ from their apartment blocks, the local occupation media can no longer try to act as though nothing is wrong.  They focus each time, however, on a specific apartment block, although the problem is essentially the same everywhere.  Russia has huge experience of destroying entire cities: it virtually razed Grozny (the capital of Chechnya) to the ground at the turn of this century, then carried out the same mass bombings of Aleppo and other Syrian cities.  Indeed, the Mariupol City Council recalls that a similar ‘New Year tree’ stunt was attempted amid the debris and carnage in Aleppo several years ago.  Russia’s track record on its own territory gives no grounds for expecting that, even if given the chance, it would ever concentrate on rebuilding what it has destroyed, and Mariupol is not the only Ukrainian city which Russia destroyed in order to occupy.  Surviving residents of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Luhansk oblast are almost certainly also freezing. 

The failure by mainstream Russian media to report how the Ukrainian residents of cities that Moscow claims to have ‘liberated’ are suffering demonstrates that their employees have no right to call themselves, or be considered as, journalists.  The information is available and there are independent Russian media willing to report the truth.  On 12 December, for example, Mediazona, published three interviews with residents of Mariupol. 

A woman, identified (doubtless, for her safety) only as Yulia, explains that she and her husband have remained “as there’s nowhere to go”, although they have faced searches, where the invaders virtually rummaged through their underwear.  There are Russians everywhere, stopping and interrogating people, and they try not to appear on the streets more than absolutely necessary.

Everyone, even really old people, underwent filtration. All of those who were in the city underwent it, they ask questions, they poke about in your telephone, photograph you from three sides, take your fingerprints.”

If you get through, as Yulia and her husband did, they receive a tiny piece of paper without which you can’t go out on the street or work.  Yulia only speaks of their experience, however we know from other people, that those who do not undergo such so-called ‘filtration’ either disappear altogether, or end up in the effective concentration camps, like Olenivka, in occupied Donbas.

At home it’s very cold, there’s no heat at all, although our apartment block did not suffer badly. There is water and electricity, though there are, admittedly, often cut-offs, but the situation with heating is totally bad. All are ill, coughing, I myself have severe bronchitis.”  She cannot, however, stay home as she simply won’t get any pay.

Anna has a 3-year-old daughter, and they also have no heating, just one single heater.  She says that they have moved to a neighbour’s apartment – if they all sleep between their and the neighbour’s one heater, you can just about live, though she has had a cough that has lingered so far for a month.

Anna mentioned also that there was one good thing, namely the fact that the overwhelming stench of bodies has now cleared. Indeed, many Mariupol residents who speak of work are, in fact, paid a pittance for clearing the rubble after Russia’s bombing of the city, with this doubtless exposing the bodies of those Russia killed.  As reported, bodies were, for long periods, left on the street, or in an abandoned supermarket (details here).

Maxar Technologies satellites from 30 November 2022 confirmed reports from the Mariupol City Council that Russia is extensively demolishing the apartment blocks and other civilian buildings that it bombed or shelled earlier.  The city authorities are almost certainly correct in concluding that Russia is trying to destroy the evidence of its crimes. Another of the satellites showed the casing around the Drama Theatre, the site of one of Russia’s most heinous war crimes (when up to 600 civilians seeking shelter under the building were killed by Russian bombs).  Further footage indicated yet another huge increase in graves around the city (more details here).

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