Journalist Barely Escapes Being Surrounded By Russians

( An Associated Press video journalist who was one of the last reporters remaining in the city of Mariupol after Russian forces surrounded it has detailed what he witnessed first-hand before escaping the city.

In his article at the AP, Ukrainian-born Mstyslav Chernov wrote that he knew early on that Mariupol would be seen as a strategic target, so he and his AP colleague Evgeniy Maloletka traveled there in late February to report on the ground. Just hours after they arrived in Mariupol, the Russian invasion began.

Chernov said in the early days, nearly a quarter of the city’s residents fled. By the time they knew Russian forces coming, many of the rest were stranded there.

The Russian blockade of Mariupol created an information blackout, Chernov explained. People in the city had no idea what was going on anywhere else, while those in Mariupol were unable to transmit information out of the city to anyone who could have offered support.

Chernov writes that most reporters left early on, but he and his team stayed in place so the story of Mariupol could be told.

A week after the invasion began, the internet in Mariupol was cut off, leaving Chernov only his satellite phone for internet. By the time Russian forces bombed the Mariupol maternity hospital, the batteries on his sat-phone were almost dead. A police officer helped them find a connection so they could transmit their images to the rest of the world.

Chernov was unaware that while he was sending the photos of the maternity hospital bombing, Russia had created a disinformation campaign claiming the hospital bombing was staged and the injured women in the photos were “crisis actors.”

The only radio station Mariupol could pick up was a Russian-controlled station that urged the people in the city to surrender.

Chernov writes in his piece, “We were surrounded: Dozens of doctors, hundreds of patients, and us.”

The Russians, angry that photos and stories were still getting out of Mariupol, compiled a list of reporters’ names and Russian soldiers were hunting for them. Chernov writes that when they were hiding in the hospital, Ukrainian soldiers dressed in hospital scrubs burst in demanding to know who the reporters were. When Chernov stepped forward, the soldiers told them “We’re here to get you out.”

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