Decomposing Bodies and Contaminated Drinking Water Spark Cholera Fears in Ruined Mariupol 
Woman boiling water in Mariupol

Fears of cholera have emerged in the ruined and Russian-occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol

Exiled local officials have voiced concern over the drinking supply in the city, which has been contaminated as a result of decomposing bodies and garbage. 

“The city has really turned into one with corpses everywhere,” said mayoral aide Petro Andryushchenko on national television. “They are piled. The occupiers cannot cope with burying them even in mass graves. There is not enough capacity even for this.”

Andryushchenko said that Russian occupiers of Mariupol are considering quarantining the city in response to the potential outbreaks. 

“You can enter the city with a residence permit in Mariupol. But this is a one-way ticket, because you cannot leave,” he said. 

“Of all the possible scenarios to fight the epidemic, in our opinion, Russia has chosen, as always, the most cynical one — just to close the people in the city and leave everything as it is: Whoever survives, survives.”

In order to access clean water, Mariupol residents must queue for hours, Andryushchenko said on Telegram, with water available every two days at most. Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko has also said last month that due to problems with the water supply, the city may face an infectious catastrophe, and more than 10,000 people may die at the end of the year. 

Citizens lining up for water in Russian-occupied Mariupol.

National authorities monitoring potential outbreaks 

Ukrainian national authorities have begun monitoring potential cholera outbreaks across the country 1 June, with Ihor Kuzin, Ukraine’s chief sanitary doctor, calling Mariupol’s situation especially dire. 

“We can’t be 100% sure that there will be disease outbreaks,” he said. “But all prerequisites for them are already there.”

In response to growing concern of cholera, WHO Ukraine has “positioned cholera treatment and vaccination supplies in the area,” said WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris in a WHO Ukraine press release Wednesday

No official reports of cholera to WHO – yet

Ibrahima Socé Fall, WHO Assistant Director-General for Emergencies Response

While the World Health Organization (WHO) has not been able to verify any report of cholera in the southeastern Ukrainian city, following public health risk analysis and needs assessment, officials have said that given the conditions of the city, it is to be expected. 

“Since the beginning of the attack in Ukraine, we have been highlighting the risk of infectious disease, including cholera, measles, typhoid fever, and other waterborne diseases because of the living conditions,” said Ibrahima Socé Fall, WHO Assistant Director-General for Emergencies Response, a press briefing Wednesday. 

“We haven’t received any report of cholera so far, but that is something we expect.” 

Last month, WHO said that it was sending cholera medicine to the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, to prepare for possible outbreaks. WHO officials highlighted the dangerous conditions of Mariupol. 

“There are swamps, actually, in the streets and the sewage water and drinking water are getting mixed,” said Dorit Nitzan, a regional emergency director at WHO. “This is a huge hazard. It’s a hazard for many infections, including cholera.”

Deteriorating water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure have heightened risk of cholera, said a report conducted by the WHO’s Health Cluster Ukraine agency in April. The warmer weather of spring and summer can also increase the risk of transmission. 

“The weather is hot. There are still dead bodies on the streets of the city — especially under the debris of residential buildings. In some blocks, it is impossible to walk by — due to the stench of rotten human flesh. There was no rain for a while, and it is getting hotter,” a resident of Mariupol, who did not want to be named for security concerns, told ABC News.

Image Credits: OCHA Ukraine/Twitter, Lesia Vasylenko/Twitter.

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