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‘The real goal is to hide the traces of war’ Moscow’s plan for rebuilding Mariupol, a city ‘wiped off the face of the earth’ by Russian troops
From day one of the Kremlin's full-scale war against Ukraine, Russian forces sought to take control of Mariupol, then the largest Ukrainian-controlled city in the Donetsk region. What Moscow surely hoped would be a quick maneuver, however, ultimately dragged into a months-long struggle as Ukrainian troops showed a level of resolve Russia hadn’t anticipated. Throughout the spring, Russian troops killed thousands of civilians and destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure, “[wiping] the city off the face of the earth,” as one local police officer put it. Now, the Kremlin has declared Mariupol part of Russia, and Russian news outlet The Village has acquired a copy of the document outlining Moscow’s vision for its reconstruction. Just like Russia’s approach to warfare in the city, its plan for rebuilding it evinces little regard for the civilians who once lived there.
The Russian news outlet The Village has obtained a copy of the Russian government’s master plan for rebuilding Mariupol, which was almost completely destroyed by Russian troops in the spring before being annexed by the Kremlin this month along with the self-proclaimed Donbas “republics” and the occupied parts of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.
The document, which outlines plans for rebuilding the city until 2035, was commissioned by the Russian Construction Ministry and prepared by a federal organization called the Unified Institute of Spatial Planning. The Village has shared a copy of the Russian-language document with Meduza. You can download it here.
The plan estimates Mariupol’s 2022 population at 212,000 people, less than half of its pre-war population of 450,000. According to conservative estimates, more than 20,000 people died during Russia's siege of the city. Tens of thousands of others fled the city, becoming refugees.
According to Moscow’s plan, Russian authorities expect 350,000 to be living in occupied Mariupol by 2025. By 2030, they plan for the city to have regained its prewar population, and by 2035, the Kremlin plans for half a million people to be living there.
The plan’s authors list the following as top priority tasks:
- Rebuilding private homes and apartment buildings and building new prefabricated apartment buildings
- Creating jobs in high-demand sectors
- Restoring life-supporting, utility, transport, and social infrastructure
- Maintaining and restoring natural areas; implementing environmentally friendly manufacturing technology; landscaping and land improvement
The document indicates that Russian developers intend to build or replace a total of 2.24 million square meters (24.1 million square feet) of housing by the end of 2022; an additional 2.76 million square meters (29.7 million square feet) of housing by 2025; 2.5 million more square meters (26.9 million square feet) of housing by 2030; and another 1.25 million square meters (13.5 million square feet) of housing by 2035. In that same period, they plan to build or repair 105 kindergartens, 92 schools, and 19 health clinics.
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The planners propose making the manufacturing industry become the backbone of Mariupol’s economy, as it was before Russia’s invasion. Metallurgy, engineering, food processing, and chemicals are to account for 23 percent of jobs, while 18 percent of workers are slated to work in other sectors (health care, social services, and “residential care activities”), and 17 percent of jobs are reserved for the public administration and defense sectors.
The presentation dedicates an entire slide to the restoration of the Azovstal and Ilyich Iron and Steel Works, the facilities Russian troops spent months besieging in the spring as Ukrainian forces defended them from within. Russian authorities plan to build a new industrial park on the territory of the Azovstal facility that they claim would provide 9,200 jobs.
In Mariupol’s historic center, according to the document, Russia will rebuild the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, the Azovstal cultural center, multiple clothing factories, Theater Square, and the Drama Theater that was shelled by Russian forces while being used as a civilian bomb shelter on March 16, killing between 300 and 600 people. Officials from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” claimed to have found only 14 bodies among the ruins.
A city planning expert who spoke to The Village on the condition of anonymity said that Russia’s master plan, lacking any social component, will not be viable in the long term.
Paradoxically, the restoration begins with the historic center and with Azovstal. The Soviet residential districts, the densest and most damaged parts of the city, where tens of thousands of people lost their homes, aren't slated to be rebuilt until after 2030 or 2035. Where will the people who lost their homes live until then?
This document, which was made without the involvement of the city community, can’t be called a master plan. By all appearances, the real purpose of the document is not long-term strategic development but something very specifically tactical: to quickly hide the traces of war in the center and to paint a cheerful picture in a small patch of the city. Not for city residents, but for viewers.
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