According to official figures, about 10,000 people lived in the frontline town of Maryinka in Donetsk Oblast before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The last residents were evacuated by rescuers in November last year. Today, the town literally does not exist – there is not a single building left standing.
The journalists of Slidstvo.Info collected evidence of how the Russian army destroyed Maryinka in the Donetsk region. The video has English subtitles.
“THERE IS NO TOWN, BUT THERE IS A REGISTERED ADDRESS”
Natalia, now a former resident of Maryinka, starts to cry every time she thinks about her hometown. Her apartment was turned into a pile of bricks and earth by the Russians.
“I even have a passport, but no home, just ruins. There is no city, but I have a registered address. Neither my mother nor my mother-in-law have a house,” explains Natalia.
The woman has lived in Maryinka all her life. She worked there and raised her daughter. On the eve of the full-scale invasion, she had just finished renovating her home, but had to leave everything behind.
Natalia and her daughter left the city first. It was the policemen from the White Angel evacuation group who had to rescue her mother with cancer. The woman did not want to leave and lived with her neighbours in the basement of her apartment block.
“They were in the basement on Zavodska Street, near the kindergarten. We brought them humanitarian aid once. I am very grateful. Now there is nothing there, just earth and bricks,” the woman says.
Now the family lives in Kurakhove (10 kilometres from the town of Maryinka). She got a job as a saleswoman in a grocery store, but still dreams of returning home.
“When the guys (the military – ed.) come to see me, I constantly ask how our Maryinka is doing. Of course, I want to go home. I don’t care if they put a dog kennel there, as long as I’m home. I live in hope that I will return there,” says Natalia.
“THE LANDSCAPE THERE LOOKS LIKE A LUNAR ONE”
Today, there are no official residents in the town of Maryinka. The last residents were evacuated at the end of last year by the police of the White Angel evacuation group and the military.
“The devastation there was already complete. Everything was on fire, explosions every minute. People could be found only in the basements. There was nothing left alive. People were there because of the surviving houses, and then, when they were destroyed, they constantly called us to take them away,” recalls police officer Vasyl Pipa.
Vasyl and his colleagues evacuated civilians from Maryinka every day. The locals nicknamed them “White Angel” because of the colour of their car. The name stuck and later became official for police evacuation teams along the entire frontline.
Once, a mine hit a few metres from Vasyl’s crew. An armoured car saved both civilians and police officers.
“If it wasn’t for the armour, probably everyone would have been killed, but only one of the heads of the criminal investigation department of the Donetsk regional police department, Oleksandr Garrit, was wounded. I believe that he is a decent and heroic man, because he was driving, losing blood, risking his health, but he got us and the civilians out,” Vasyl says.
The policeman watches the drone video, but neither he nor his colleagues can recognise the location – the city has changed so much.
“In fact, the city of Maryinka does not exist. The landscape there is like a lunar landscape, you know, everything is dug up. You can find your way around by the cardinal points, some beams, some buildings,” explains Pipa.
“THEY JUST WANT A PIECE OF TERRITORY”
The soldiers of the 54th Separate Mechanised Brigade, who defended Maryinka from the beginning of the full-scale invasion until last autumn, told Slidstvo. Info that the Russians shelled the city with artillery, aircraft and even used phosphorus shells prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.
“Phosphorus was used every day until they had a shortage of ammunition. It burns everything. Wherever it hits, in the private sector, for example, the roof catches fire at once, and the whole house burns down,” recalls soldier Dmytro, call sign “Boyets” (transl. – a “Fighter” from Ukrainian).
An officer of the 54th Brigade with the call sign “Haiduk” is convinced that the Russian army deliberately shelled residential areas.
“Artillery doesn’t just fire at random – it fires at a target… If one shot is fired nearby, and the others are 300 and 500 metres away, it’s just intimidation. It won’t hurt the military that much – they are trained, they are buried,” explains Haiduk.
The Russians use the so-called scorched earth tactic, not even trying to protect civilians and infrastructure, because they only want territory, says “Boyets”: “They just need a piece of territory where their troops will be stationed. To shell at any time. To get closer to the cities they are shelling. To constantly keep people in fear, in panic, in shock.”
Despite the fact that there are no civilians in the city anymore and all the buildings have been destroyed, the battle for Maryinka is still ongoing. And after more than a year of fierce clashes and attempts by the Russian army to occupy the city, its western outskirts are still under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces.