The events in Mariupol in 2022 are among the most tragic in the history of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine. According to insider data from Mariupol morgues and Prosecutor’s office, about 100,000 civilians died because of the unprecedented bombing of the city, a humanitarian disaster, the cold and the failure to provide timely medical aid. Despite the fact that Mariupol is still under the control of the self-proclaimed Russian authorities, which are trying in every way to hide mass deaths and hush all means of communication, local eyewitnesses and morgue workers continue to inform the world.

‘Bukvy’ talked about Mariupol with Mykola Osychenko, volunteer, public figure and president of Mariupol TV, who was with his family in the besieged city until March 15.

Currently, Mykola is involved in the ‘Civilian Voices’ project, which collects the stories of Mariupol citizens and documents the testimonies of those who managed to escape the occupation.


– As the president of Mariupol TV, you were always behind the scenes. Please tell us how it happened that your videos and interviews became known in Ukraine and abroad.

– On the eve of the war, many people asked what was happening in Mariupol, so on February 23, I recorded my first video, in which I told how calm and panic-free the city was. And then the war started, I continued to inform, so all the days I was in the city I published new videos about the events in Mariupol. When the real hell broke out, and there was no electricity, water and gas, we were cut off from all communications; I was catching connection on the 10th floor of the building, because I knew that people were waiting for my videos with information. When I arrived in Zaporizhzhya on March 15, I was met by representatives of the local and regional authorities and the military. As it turned out, they all watched my videos about the events in Mariupol.

– What thoughts did you have about the potential invasion, as Mariupol had been on the edge for 8 years?

– You correctly point out that Mariupol had indeed been on the edge for 8 years. I saw a show that started in 2014 in Donbas, which was made for the Russian consumer. And even then, in Donetsk, people did not understand the horror that has been going on all these years. Pro-Russian rallies on Lenin Square, a mass parade brought to the city – all this was funny to us only until the moment when Donbas was under the control of the armed Kadyrov’s soldiers and Ossetians in April 2014. As for Mariupol – the residents had become so accustomed to shelling and shooting on the outskirts, which was not perceived as a potential threat. It became a part of our life. I personally did not believe until the last moment that the president of Russia was capable of such a step. Although the defenders of Mariupol were preparing for the Russian invasion every day. They expected the enemy to come from the east, but no one could think that the Russian army would attack from the southwest.

– On Dnipro TV channel, you said, ‘The worst situation at the beginning of the war was in Mariupol. People could not leave from there. They became hostages’. So, why did the residents fail to leave? After all, the city was not occupied immediately, and for quite a long time the road towards the Ukraine-controlled territory was under the control of the Ukrainian military.

– On February 24-26, many people managed to leave. Later, there was no longer such an opportunity, because the city was being attacked from the southwest. The road was under our control only partially – a checkpoint at the exit from Mariupol in the direction of Berdyansk and several nearby villages. Then tank battles began and Russian aircraft flew over controlled territories. Rumors spread among residents that they would be able to evacuate at some specific time. This was done by the incompetent government that left the city. People were rushing to leave, and just at that moment, enemy drones were circling over the Ukrainian checkpoint. So, at that time, our military did not allow the creation of car clusters because Russian aircraft used all kinds of weapons. Leaving the city became critically dangerous. The girls I knew tried to evacuate from the surrounded city, but their car broke down, so our military gave them their car.

– According to your data from the morgue, as of August 2022, 87,000 deaths were documented in Mariupol. Does this number include only those people whose death was confirmed by medical workers?

– At the beginning of hostilities, when the medical workers and the police were still able to work, only the medics and the police recorded deaths. They should be honored for this. Since the beginning of March, civilian deaths were also documented by utility workers who delivered water and humanitarian aid around the city and recorded the number of deaths. Workers of communal services collected bodies just on the streets after shelling and bombing, put them on trucks and took them away. Trenches were dug in the city garden, where the dead peaceful citizens of Mariupol were buried. Based on this, records were kept – 10 bodies were found in one place, 20 were buried in the other place. 87,000 is the number from only one morgue. The occupiers brought all the bodies there. These are only identified bodies. In Novoazovsk (a city in Donetsk region, located to the east of Mariupol) there is a prosecutor’s office, where there is a database of unidentified bodies. As of August, there were 26,750 such cases.

– About the database of unidentified bodies. Have these people been buried, and how was the search for relatives organized?

– Yes, the record is kept like this – the gender, approximate age and, if any, physical characteristics of the deceased. If the deceased did not have documents with them, their death was recorded by external signs – a woman, about 30 years old, was found in the central district.

– As reported by one of the local Telegram channels, 88,000 bodies were officially buried and exhumed. However, this figure is not final, because the reburial of the remains of the bodies discovered from under the rubble is still ongoing. Tens of thousands of missing persons, whose cases are not considered by the occupation authorities, because they do not have a single database of missing civilians. What can you say about this?

– Yes, it is true. When they say ‘buried’ they include mass graves in this number.

– It is known that the occupiers are trying in every possible way to hide the number of the dead, so how did the database of morgues, the prosecutor’s office and other bodies become known to the Ukrainian society?

– My work is closely related to the society, communication and direct contacts with people. I have enough connections, acquaintances, friends and informants in Mariupol. The information was provided to me by a source from the morgue. The worst thing for me, and the thing I feel guilty about, is that this person completely stopped contacting me a couple of days after I posted the 87,000 death toll. Maybe she cut ties with me for her own safety, or maybe she was figured out somehow. I even offered money for data from the Novoazov prosecutor’s office, one of its employees told me only the number of the dead. The computer where this database is located is not even connected to the network to prevent information leakage. It is local and it is almost impossible to get access to it.

– Where, in fact, are hundreds of thousands of Mariupol residents buried?

– At the largest cemetery in Europe – Starokrymske. There are also mass burials in the village of Vynohradne, in the suburbs. Several people are buried in some graves, if the bodies are not recognized or relatives are unable to rebury the bodies of Mariupol residents. There are no systemic burials in the city now, the occupiers are not interested in it.

– A report by the British Center for Information Resilience (CIR) says that from May 12 to June 29, about 1,400 new graves appeared at the Starokrymske cemetery. Does it mean that the exhumation of bodies from under the rubble and from graves in the yards continues?

– Exhumation will never end. In every burned and destroyed house and under it were hiding the people who died there. The most terrible thing, according to the residents, were cases of non-instant death, the moans of people who were simply blocked there could be heard under the rubble of buildings. Today, the occupiers are demolishing the destroyed houses along with the remains of bodies. There is a reliable source that reports that our captured Azov soldiers and marines were taken to Mariupol to retrieve bodies from under the rubble.

– Can we assume now at least an approximate number of killed civilians?

– No, we cannot, even if we de-occupy the city in a few months. There is nothing left of many bodies. We will count the number of the dead only if we receive all reports from relatives about the missing. It must also be understood that there were also cases when families died out completely. But the number of victims is clearly more than 100,000, because the Russian military completely destroyed the city.

– How would you assess the difficulty of the heating season in Mariupol and whether there is a threat of cold deaths of residents?

– All heat supply communications were from Soviet times. Due to the hostilities, this entire system was destroyed, because since the beginning of the invasion the Russian military deliberately hit the boiler houses. Today, the occupiers are trying to build something or repair what they destroyed. I know that the occupiers provided some families with rooms in dormitories, but there are critically few places to live. But, as the self-proclaimed government said, first of all, the housing will be given to medics, critical infrastructure workers and law enforcement officers. It will be too difficult for people to survive in Mariupol during the cold seasons. The only thing we can do to help the people of Mariupol right now is to somehow provide them with warm things and blankets. But the risk of death from frost and cold is huge, it is a fact.