May 30 (Reuters) – People are slowly starting to return to the streets of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, hit by weeks of shelling by Russian forces and now fully under Russian control.

On Monday, local residents charged electrical appliances from generators and traded food and clothes at impromptu street markets, while at an empty bus station Russian state television blared on a giant screen brought by officials.

Lyuba, wearing sunglasses and a hat to shield her from the sun, said she was charging her phone. She had decided not to leave town, although her apartment had been damaged. “There’s no electricity, no water – things are really tough, of course.”

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A man called Nikolai said he also came to recharge his phone, as there was no electricity available at the station where he now lives. Neither gave surnames.

Some locals could be seen collecting essentials from boxes emblazoned with the pro-Russian “Z” symbol.

Others had set up their own stalls to sell – or trade – produce, including vegetables and shoes. A woman – who did not give her name – said few products were left after the looting that ravaged the town.

Russia took full control of Mariupol earlier this month when more than 2,400 Ukrainian fighters who had resisted surrendered to the besieged Azovstal steelworks.

Moscow’s capture of Mariupol helped it secure full control of the Sea of ​​Azov coast and create a land bridge connecting mainland Russia to Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called Mariupol “completely destroyed”, but Moscow has pledged to rebuild it.

Both sides have accused each other of targeting residential areas and ultimately being responsible for the charred and largely uninhabitable apartment buildings that now make up most of the city.

It is not known how many civilians remain.

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a “special operation” to demilitarize its southern neighbor.

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Reuters reporting; Written by Diane Craft; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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