CNN’s Ivan Watson previously spoke to Maria Kutnyakova in March last year, after she managed to escape Mariupol to Ukrainian-controlled territory with her family.
Speaking with Watson again by phone Sunday, Kutnyakova said Putin had visited Mariupol at night “because they didn’t want to shoot the real footage of the destroyed city.”
“They didn’t want to show that Mariupol is still a catastrophe. There are a lot of destroyed buildings. That people live in a bad situation,” said Kutnyakova, who now works online for a Ukrainian NGO from the safety of Vilnius, Lithuania.
“Russian propaganda showed this image of a few buildings that they built. They want to let people believe that in Mariupol now is very nice, beautiful place. But it’s not,” Kutnyakova said.
She told CNN prices in Mariupol are “crazy,” that people in the city have no medicine or heating, and that problems persist with communications, electricity, water and gas.
Kutnyakova said all 15 of her relatives and several close friends who lived in Mariupol have left the city. She said her family has been unable to locate her uncle since last spring, and they fear he may have died.
About the bombing: About 300 people died when Russian forces bombed the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol, which had been functioning as a shelter for residents, according to city leaders.
The March 16, 2022, bombing was among the most brazen of Russia’s attacks on civilians in its initial offensive.
Before the attack, the word “CHILDREN” had been painted on the ground outside the building in giant Russian letters. As many as 1,300 people were sheltering inside.
Russia denied its forces hit the theater, claiming a regiment in Ukraine’s army had blown it up. Moscow made similar claims — without providing evidence — about the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol that occurred about a week prior.
The southeastern city has been under Russian control since May 2022.