It’s probably fair to say that most people — especially non-Europeans — were not familiar with the name Mariupol before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his war on Ukraine. And safe to say that today the name is synonymous with destruction, suffering and trauma. That’s the impetus for this post and collection of photos — a look at Mariupol then and now.
The city was founded in 1778 and renamed Mariupol the next year, home then to a few thousand people. Roughly a century later, the port city became a key transit point for exports of wheat — second in size only to Odessa — an economic role it continued to play until the current war began. Later came steel production; in 1933, the sprawling Azovstal steelworks were built. It is in the underground warrens of the Azovstal plant that Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been sheltering — and dying — during the Russian siege.
The last time the city suffered great loss and damage was during the German military occupation of World War II. After the war, Mariupol was renamed Zhdanov, after the Soviet politician Andrei Zhdanov; the name reverted to Mariupol in 1989.
The mayor of Mariupol has said that more than 10,000 people have died there since the war began, and he believes the actual figure may be double that. Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that 600 people may have been killed in a single Russian attack — the March 16 strike against the Mariupol Theater.
Whatever it once was, and whatever happens next, Mariupol has already joined other cities — Aleppo, Sarajevo, Grozny to name a few — which will be forever linked to wartime destruction and allegations of crimes against humanity.