An official in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol said Russia imposed a quarantine in the port city on Monday after the infectious disease cholera began spreading among residents, raising fears of a massive outbreak amid the war effort.
Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to Mariupol’s mayor, said Russian forces who control the city imposed the quarantine and have blocked the city, according to multiple reports from Ukrainian outlets.
The Mariupol City Council said a cholera outbreak could kill tens of thousands of lives, according to a Telegram post. The city council said Mariupol was “literally drowning in garbage,” awash with corpses, suffering from heat and lacking medical supplies and facilities.
They added Russian forces have begun to rebury the dead in three “huge” mass graves, but the process could take months. Meanwhile, up to 120,000 citizens are living in deplorable conditions in the shattered city.
“Spontaneous burials are still in almost every yard in Mariupol. Bodies are rotting under the rubble of hundreds of high-rise buildings. And it literally poisons the air,” the city council wrote on Telegram.
Ihor Kuzin, the chief sanitary doctor with Ukraine’s Public Health Ministry, said at a Monday news briefing the virulent disease caused by a bacterial infection was spreading primarily because of mass burials and a lack of access to safe drinking water.
Cholera is a disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae† The disease typically causes excessive watery diarrhea. It takes anywhere from 12 hours to five days for a person to show symptoms after they consume contaminated food or water.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Mariupol in Ukraine’s east has suffered some of the most brutal shelling attacks, including at a maternity hospital and a theater where hundreds of civilians were hiding out.
In April, the governor of the region said the city had been “wiped off the face of the earth” while the city’s mayor estimated more than 10,000 citizens have died.
Russia claimed full control of the city in May as it began intensifying attacks in the eastern region of Ukraine.
Ukrainian leaders began worrying about a cholera outbreak last month. The mayor of Mariupol Vadym Boychenko said more than 10,000 people could die from cholera and dysentery, according to a Telegram post.
“The occupiers turned Mariupol into a medieval ghetto,” Boychenko wrote. “Without medicine and medical care, the restoration of water supply and proper sewage in the city will erupt epidemics. Today, the majority of the current population is old and sick.”
The World Health Organization also began warning about a potential cholera outbreak last month. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director in Europe, said the health organization was preparing cholera vaccines for Ukraine in an address last month.
Russia also began preparing to address a potential cholera outbreak last month, according to a post from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense on Telegram.
The nation is reportedly bolstering laboratory research for cholera, boosting public awareness about disease prevention and preparing the appropriate medicine.