<p>Russian army tanks move through a street on the outskirts of Mariupol. The Z marking is one of several symbols painted on Russian military vehicles in the early stages of the invasion.</p>
2023 Photo Contest, Europe, Stories

The Siege of Mariupol


Evgeniy Maloletka

Associated Press
11 March, 2022

Russian army tanks move through a street on the outskirts of Mariupol. The Z marking is one of several symbols painted on Russian military vehicles in the early stages of the invasion.

The port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov was the first city struck when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, on 24 February 2022. Civilians were hit hard. 

The strategically important port is one of the largest Russian-speaking cities in Ukraine, a major industrial hub, and vital for the country’s steel exports. The territory was also of symbolic value to invading forces, as it represented a large step towards building a land bridge between the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Crimea, which Russia had illegally annexed in 2014.

By early March, Russian forces had completely surrounded the city, restricting water, power and food supplies. Some 200,000 citizens were trapped in Mariupol, as attempts to evacuate them failed. Russian bombardment devastated the city, and included civilian targets such as a maternity hospital and a theater where people were sheltering. Evgeniy Maloletka, who is Ukrainian, was one of the very few photographers documenting events in Mariupol at that time.

On 21 April, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russian forces had taken Mariupol, but the city council said that 1,000 civilians alongside thousands of Ukrainian soldiers were holding out in the giant Azovstal steelworks. By 20 May, the soldiers defending the steelworks had surrendered, and the UN and Red Cross were able to evacuate the civilians. The UN Human Rights Office confirmed 1,348 civilian deaths during the siege of Mariupol, stating that the actual death toll was likely thousands higher; Ukraine says that figure is more than 25,000.

At the time of writing in April 2023, Mariupol remained under Russian occupation. Russia has begun rebuilding the city and scrubbing it of its Ukrainian identity by renaming streets and changing school curriculums.

Evgeniy Maloletka
About the photographer

Evgeniy Maloletka is a war photographer, journalist and filmmaker from Berdyansk, Ukraine. Since 2014, Maloletka has been covering the war in Ukraine. He has also covered the Euromaidan Revolution, the protests in Belarus, the Nagorno-Karabakh war and the COVID-19 pandemic in Ukraine. Maloletka graduated from the...

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Jury comment

This story depicts the reality of Russian attacks on Mariupol in a direct way, without indulging in tragedy and other visual possibilities. The story is full of rare and historic images from different angles at a ground level, packaged and edited flawlessly to communicate the civilian toll of war. Each image left a mark on the jury. They were struck by how the Ukrainian photographer risked his life to access visuals of Russian combatants and make these images available to the world. This story will rise as a collection of haunting iconic images of the ongoing war.