'It was a massacre’, say residents of Mariupol

STORY: Shelled buildings, piles of rubble and make-shift graves.

This is what life looks like for those left behind in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

A horrifying reality that the international community hopes they can soon escape.

Mariupol city council estimates that more than 100,000 people are believed to be in “mortal danger” in the city, with many hoping for safe evacuation.

For weeks, those who have not managed to leave like Viktoria Nikolayeva, have sheltered underground, as Russian and Ukrainian forces battle overhead.

The 54-year-old told Reuters of the moment she thought could be her and her family’s last.

"It's terrible. It's like films when they show the last days of the planet – the same thing happened here."

"We were hungry, the child was crying when the Grad shells were hitting near the house. We were thinking, this is it, the end. It can't be described, only ones who were here have experienced it. I can't put that in words. It’s horrible.”

Mariupol has seen some of the heaviest fighting of the war so far and much of the port city now lies in ruins.

People here sift through rubble for their belongings, cook meals on the roadside, and stare at the charred shells of buildings all around them.

Meanwhile, the bodies of those who did not survive the weeks of fighting are collected by emergency services.

In the shadow of a destroyed apartment block, 71 year-old Vitaliy Kudasov recounted horrors from the battle for his now devastated city.

"It was a massacre. It was the scariest thing when the shells were flying overhead. Shells, rounds and all such, you couldn't survive it. And yet we did."

"A shell exploded eight meters away... I didn't manage to get to the basement in time, I felt the heat on my face. But whatever, thank God it will all be OK.”

Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a "special operation" to disarm Ukraine.

Though aid organizations and the United Nations say they believe thousands have died.

Russia declared victory in Mariupol last week, a city of around 400,000 but hundreds of Ukrainian forces and civilians still remain.

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