A Journeyman's Guide to Travel to Mariupol
UPDATE 30 April 2022
See also today's updates to our article about travelling to the Donbass. Mariupol is considered by the Russians to be part of the Donetsk People's Republic, and hence all our update advice on Donbass also applies to Mariupol.
UPDATE 29 April 2022
Law and order in Mariupol appears to have completely broken down, with Russian soldiers marauding rampantly through the city centre, looting the museums of their artefacts and damaging other public buildings, and pillaging more generally. There may be random acts of violence against local residents.
If you travel to Mariupol then be extremely careful. Travel armed, and ideally with a comprehensive six-man CPU team carrying a range of small arms sufficient to outgun random Russian pillagers. Obtain permission from the Russian military authorities before travel.
We are not entirely certain how one obtains that permission, but we have been given an overview. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to engage us to seek a relevant permission to enter Mariupol. Without one, you may be stopped and robbed of all your belongings at the first Russian checkpoint in the city. Or of course you may just be raped and/or murdered.
We will keep the security situation under review as best as we are able, and we may provide updates here.
23 April 2022
This article provides some succinct pointers to travelling in and out of Mariupol, Donetsk oblast, Ukraine at the date of writing. If you are contemplating travelling to Mariupol, you should read these notes very carefully. They are primarily designed for third country nationals but they may be helpful for anyone.
After weeks of intensive shelling by the Russian Armed Forces of Mariupol's eastern and western suburbs, designed to drive out the Ukrainian militia groups known as the Azov Brigades who for the most part were not from Mariupol, the city, of an estimated 430,000 people, has suffered substantial damage to its infrastructure, public buildings and also many private tenement blocks.
Mariupol is a longish city that stretches along the Sea of Azov to its south. It is principally the eastern and western suburbs that have seen the most damage. The centre is relatively undamaged.
Due to the heavy shelling over several weeks, it is believed that the majority of the civilian population has fled. Those remaining are principally the elderly.
As a result, very few public facilities are open. There are almost no, if any, shops, bars, restaurants, hotels or any other sort of public business in operation.
Accommodation is available in either abandoned apartments or courtesy of locals who need the money. Conventional hotel or private accommodation is not known of to this author's sources.
There has been significant disruption to the water supply, for reasons unknown but presumed to be associated with war damage.
Accordingly bring your own food, water and accommodation for the entirety of your trip. Apparently it is possible to pitch a tent on the beach and this is something a handful of people are doing.
Fighting has finished in the entirety of the town with Russian victory, save for the Avostal Iron and Steel Works just east of the centre.
Stay away from the Avostal steel works, that are currently under tight siege from the Russian Armed Forces with an estimated 1,000 Ukrainian militia holdouts who refuse to surrender. The Russian Armed Forces are bombarding Avostal with shells. There is no way in or out, but the Russian troops guarding the perimeter may be expected not to be particularly well disposed towards casual visitors. You may be arrested for espionage or beaten up; or both.
Because no businesses are open, you will not need any money - except to get out, and perhaps to sleep in a remaining resident's apartment.
Private taxis can take you to and from Donetsk, Melitopol and Dniepropetrovsk. All these cities are safe at the time of writing.
All telecommunications and the internet are down. It is impossible to contact anyone in Mariupol using electronic means, or to make a call out of Mariupol, unless you have a satellite phone.
In the city, we are told that the Russian Armed Forces are scarce and are not bothering or stopping people - except around Avostal.
We are told there are Russian checkpoints on all major arteries into the city. For what it is worth, it has been suggested to us that the least onerous are those coming to/from the north. They may just wave you through. Have a story about helping evacuation of family members at the ready. Do not mention that you are bringing money, or it may be taken from you.
If you obviously have a lot of food on you, the Russian checkpoint guards may take it. Hide your food in the vehicle. Have a few packets of cigarettes ready to give them.
Russian troops are undertaking 8-12 hour shifts at Avostal before driving to/from barracks in Donetsk, two hours away, due to a shortage of food, water and accommodation in Mariupol. They are likely to be confused, exhausted and hungry, so interact with them with the greatest of sensitivity.
Russian martial law applies. The Russian Commander in Theatre is issuing decrees. It is not clear how to work out what they say. Rumours are rife.
Do not carry anything that might cause Russian checkpoint soldiers to suspect you are a mercenary, military volunteer or anything similar.
Nor should you bare the trappings of being a journalist, NGO worker, or in particular an international organisation employee. Your reasons for going there are personal, to help your hungry and stranded family (that can conveniently not be contacted by telephone) and friends.
If you act foolishly before Russian armed forces, you are likely to be arrested and confined in Izolyatsia prison in Donetsk, which does not have a reputation for the highest standards of prisoner care and comfort.
Here is its Wikipedia page, which at the time of writing seems relatively neutral and accurate: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izolyatsia_prison
Your Embassy will have trouble extracting you from this prison.
All things considered, Mariupol is not too dangerous as long as you are extremely careful and scrupulously deferential to any Russian troops you may encounter. Your major dangers are hunger and thirst. Food and water supplies may be out for some time. So your journey length will be limited by the amount of food and water you bring and do not give away or have expropriated by the Russian military.
That having been said, Mariupol is probably not a good place to linger. You can stay a couple of nights on the pretext of passing through or helping friends and family; beyond that you may attract the sort of attention that gets you a room in Izolyatsia prison.
Move onto Donetsk as quickly as you can. It is actually quite a nice city, with proper accommodation and hospitality options.