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Mariupol before and after: updated Google maps show destruction in Ukraine’s city

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

For more than 80 days, Mariupol endured a brutal and unrelenting bombardment, as Russian forces determined to take the port city reduced much of it to rubble.

In March 2022, a few days after the war began, Russian forces cut off electricity, water and gas supplies, forcing residents to melt snow for water and cook outside over open flames. Mariupol was encircled and the relentless bombing of the city began.

After a maternity ward was shelled and images of bloodied, heavily pregnant women were broadcast across the world, the siege of Mariupol became emblematic of the brutality of the Russian invasion.

Updated satellite imagery from Google Maps has revealed the scale of the destruction across large sections of the Ukrainian city – and the Russian efforts to erase any evidence of the atrocities that took place there.

Weeks into the siege, as homes became uninhabitable and routes out of the city were closed off, many residents moved into public shelters. More than a thousand took refuge in the central drama theatre, which had once been a focal point of city life.

As more residents gathered in the basement, someone spelled out the word DETI – children – in giant Russian letters in front of the building.

Around 10am on 16 March, Russia bombed the building. It’s thought that about 1,200 people were inside. At the time, authorities said 300 people had been killed, but the Associated Press said their investigations put the number closer to 600.

Amnesty International condemned the bombing as “a clear war crime”. By December, Russia had begun to demolish the building’s remains. Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the city’s exiled mayor, has said Russia destroyed what remained of the theatre to “hide war crimes”.

In mid-April, all remaining Ukrainian troops defending the city were ordered to regroup at Azovstal, the city’s huge steel plant. The factory’s employees and their families also took refuge there, where they became the target of heavy bombardment for a number of weeks.

After some time, food and water began to grow scarce and the plight of those sheltering at Azovstal became the centre of international attention. On 1 May, the UN and Red Cross facilitated an agreement that secured the release of the civilians; and then two weeks later the remaining troops were ordered to surrender.

A total of 2,439 fighters gave themselves up to the Russian forces outside the plant and with that, the city of Mariupol had finally fallen.

Mariupol’s suburbs were not spared, with the latest images showing the extent of the damage to residential areas.

46% of the city’s building were damaged or destroyed in the siege, according to one estimate. In a city that was once home to more than 400,000, the UN estimates that up to 90% of its multi-storey residential building have been damaged or destroyed.

Andryushchenko estimates that the updated Google satellite images were captured on different dates after March 2022. Writing on Telegram, he has claimed that the pictures reveal a new mass burial site at the city’s Novotroitsky cemetery.

Associated Press has reported that at least 10,000 new graves are scattered across the city and the death toll is estimated to be at least 25,000.

In March, Vladimir Putin travelled to Mariupol for the first time since the war began. Russian media reported that he visited several sites, spoke to residents and was presented with a report on the city’s reconstruction.

Russian authorities have said they hope to entice some of the hundreds of thousands who fled to return. They claim that hundreds of apartments have already been rebuilt, but reports from former residents who have returned show that many of the new buildings were built hurriedly and are of poor quality.

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