The surgeons leaving the operating room don’t make eye contact. One of them holds up his hands. Another looks down, defeated. It’s then that the father waiting at the doorway grabs his forehead, tears welling, and turns away, a wail about to escape his throat.
The man, identified only as Serhii, enters the room and finds his 16-year-old son, Iliya, is still and draped by a blood-stained sheet.
Serhii drops down, hugs Iliya’s lifeless head and convulses with grief.
Iliya was fatally wounded Wednesday while playing soccer in Mariupol when shelling started amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The explosive hit the soccer field near a school in the Azov Sea city.
Elsewhere in Mariupol, shelling illuminated darkening skies as medics stood in a parking lot, with heavy fighting continuing on the city outskirts on Thursday. The city was plunged into darkness as the battle knocked out most phone services and raised the prospect of food and water shortages.
Without phone connections, medics did not know where to take the wounded. Others drove around the city, with one crew finding a wounded woman who was put on a stretcher, carried down the stairs and placed into an ambulance, her hands shaking rapidly.
Cutting off Ukraine’s access to the Black and Azov Seas would deal a crippling blow to Ukraine’s economy. It would also allow Russia to build a land corridor to Crimea, which it seized in 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have brought their superior firepower to bear over the past few days, launching hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites around the country and making significant gains in the south.
The Russians announced the capture of the southern city of Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 280,000, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed the takeover of the government headquarters there, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began a week ago.