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Doctors Without Borders describes declining situation in Mariupol, Ukraine


Over the past week, people in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol have been taking shelter amid heavy Russian bombardment. Ukrainian officials had planned several evacuations only to scrap them after what they described as Russian attacks on evacuation routes. Alex Wade of MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, says the power's been out in Mariupol for days and that some people are now collecting snow and rain water to drink.

ALEX WADE: We've literally heard of people breaking into heating systems to get water. People are really finding any means they can to find drinking water.

MCCAMMON: When I spoke to him earlier from his base in Lviv in western Ukraine, he said it's been days since they've heard from hospitals in Mariupol.

WADE: The last contact we had was them communicating that they have been receiving wounded, that the numbers are going up and that they are concerned about their supply because they could be running out of supplies.

MCCAMMON: Wade says a possible disaster looms over the city.

WADE: It doesn't take a doctor to figure out that if you have hundreds of thousands of people without access to food or water, people will start dying. What's also deeply well beyond frustrating is that this is the third day in a row where our colleagues there and the entire population there woke up with the hope that there would be some sort of humanitarian corridor to safely leave the city. And this is the third day in a row where such efforts failed. So they're going to bed again tonight in the same conditions or rather even worse because supplies are running out.

MCCAMMON: What are you hearing from your colleagues there about how they are getting by? I assume they're just rationing what they can. What are they doing?

WADE: Yeah, it's exactly that. You know, it's also worth saying that communication has gotten a lot harder. Whereas we used to be able to communicate regularly every day, now it's sporadic. Sometimes there's many, many hours that go by where we're waiting for some sort of message, and texting is really the only thing that gets through right now. What we do know is that they're rationing what they have. Today we got a message that they have been - people have been cutting down firewood and digging holes in their backyards to start fires to cook if they have any food left. So we know some of our staff were doing that because that's what they had to resort to for both heat and to be able to cook anything.

MCCAMMON: Are there supermarkets open? Are people even able to get food at this point?

WADE: No, no. The supermarkets have been closed for days. Our staff told us that several supermarkets and shopping centers had been hit in the shelling that came into the city. People, having really no other choice because there was no supermarkets available, nowhere to get food, went to the supermarkets and took food for themselves. And from the last we heard, all of the supermarkets are pretty much empty at this point.

MCCAMMON: Obviously, you want passage to open up in and out of the city for the sake of civilian safety and supplies. What do you think the international community needs to do right now, I mean, today to help the situation?

WADE: I mean, everyone really needs to call on all actors to ensure that this happens and put as much pressure as possible to ensure that a safe corridor opens up and that all of those who want to leave safely can do. I think we should also insist that those who choose to stay should also remain safe. No one should be punished and have to pay the price for this war simply because they're an innocent civilian who wishes to stay in their home. So I think people really need to insist on respecting the right to life, both in leaving Mariupol and in staying.

MCCAMMON: We've been talking a lot about Mariupol, where things are very dire. But what about where you are in Lviv? How are things there?

WADE: Calm for the moment. It's safe. The only important thing about Lviv is that we hope it remains safe because not only have all the international organizations regrouped here to sort of mount our emergency response, but it's where there's now hundreds of thousands of displaced who are relocated. And so we really hope it remains a safe location.

MCCAMMON: Alex Wade is an emergency coordinator with MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, speaking to us from Lviv, Ukraine, today. Thank you so much for joining us.

WADE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF VALLIS ALPS SONG, "RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.