Amidst more bodies being found in Mariupol and tons more being buried in mass graves, Russia risks having a massive Cholera outbreak as Mariupol continues to have deteriorating sanitation standards and dead bodies potentially contaminating the water supply.

Mariupol had been the subject of international attention throughout the Russo-Ukrainian war, with it being one of the most bombed-out cities in Ukraine. The entire city is virtually destroyed, with the Russians continuously shelling it since the start of the war on February 24th.

Around mid-May, the last fortified stronghold of the Ukrainian forces defending Mariupol at the Azovstal Iron and Steelworks Plant had been ordered to stand down despite the Ukrainian forces wanting to continue fighting. This is because the Russians had completely encircled the plant, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted the soldiers to come back home alive. These soldiers, namely those from the Azov Regiment and the 36th Marine Brigade, are widely seen as heroes and symbols of Ukrainian willpower in its stalwart defense against the Russian forces.

Since then, it was reported that these Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered to Russian forces, signaling the Russian occupation of the city. These soldiers were reportedly transported to Russian-controlled cities, where they faced Russian trials for war crimes.

That said, the Adviser to the Mayor of Mariupol, Petro Andryushchenko, stated that the water supply had already been contaminated by deteriorating garbage and decomposing bodies as the dead had been buried in unauthorized areas. He further claimed that the epidemic has “more or less begun already.” This claim has not been independently verified.

Ukraine’s Chief State Sanitary Doctor Ihor Kuzin also echoed Andryushchenko’s sentiments. “If you answer the question of whether there is a risk of cholera spreading, it really is there,” Kuzin stated.

“We know that cholera cases have been registered in this region and in Mariupol in the past, and we are focused on preventing this and preventing it as much as possible,” he added.

According to him, residents still in Mariupol and surrounding areas should only use water from wells and aqueducts that have been treated with heat so that they can use the water safely.

In response, the Russian officials in control of Mariupol are reportedly planning a quarantine in the city to avoid the spread of the disease. “There are talks about quarantine. The city is being quietly closed,” Andryushchenko said, adding that corpses were being found everywhere in the city.

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“The city has really turned into one with corpses everywhere,” he added. “They are piled. The occupiers cannot cope with burying them even in mass graves. There is not enough capacity even for this.”

Before this, the World Health Organization had already warned Ukraine about cholera spreading in the country as its water and sanitation infrastructures had been damaged. WHO received reports that some areas in Ukraine had actual swamps in the streets, which means sewage water and drinking water are getting mixed together.

“We are concerned about the potential for a cholera outbreak in occupied areas where water and sanitation is damaged or destroyed,” WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said.

“We got information that there are swamps actually in the streets, and the sewage water and drinking water are getting mixed,” WHO Ukraine incident manager Dorit Nitzan added.

A small swamp in Mariupol where sewage and drinking water may have been mixing together (Денис Казанський). Source:
A small swamp in Mariupol where sewage and drinking water may have been mixing together (Денис Казанський/Twitter)

The World Health Organization has prepared for the potential outbreak of Cholera in Mariupol and surrounding areas. The organization is pre-positioning vaccines in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. However, even with vaccines on standby, it is unknown how WHO can deliver and administer them to those in Mariupol.

Andryushchenko reported that people could not freely enter and exit Mariupol as one would expect. According to him, people can only enter if they have a residence permit, which is only one way because once you’re in, the Russian forces will not let you leave.

The outbreak of disease will be devastating to the already destroyed city. The city, which had been bombed for several months, had more than 400,000 residents before the invasion. Now, there are currently 150,000 left in Mariupol, according to the deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov, who has since fled the city.

With civilians being bombed in the area, as well as hospitals and evacuating civilians, many fear the worst for the residents in Mariupol. This is because Russia has a track record of not being the nicest occupants. They have a history of torturing and killing civilians both in Mariupol and Bucha, where a massacre had taken place.

Currently, more bodies are being found in Mariupol. As many as 50 to 100 bodies are found in every building in the city in what is described to be an “endless caravan of death” by local officials. Initial Ukrainian estimates put the number of dead Mariupol civilians at 21,000, a number that can be higher as more bodies are being found.