Throughout the spring of 2022 nightly broadcasts showed the extent of the suffering and shattering destruction being inflicted on Mariupol by Russian forces as they sought to seize the Sea of Azov city and its port.

Large parts of the city were razed to the ground during the brutal three-month siege with the UN estimating that 90 percent of city center apartment buildings and 60 percent of private houses in the suburbs, a total of more than 2,500 buildings, were destroyed.

Estimates put the number of people killed as at least 25,000, mostly civilian residents of the against a pre-war population of 430,000. Tens of thousands fled or were sent out of Ukraine by the Russian occupiers.

Almost as soon as they had taken control of the city, Russia began to try to undo the damage inflicted and began a massive a reconstruction effort. Moscow seemed to view the devastated city as a blank canvas allowing it to turn Mariupol into a model city. The design documents, signed by the Unified Institute for Land Planning of the Russian Federation in July 2022, has planned for the construction of 8,750,000 square meters of housing by 2035.

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Russia’s Plan for the “new” Mariupol

Source: “The Conflict Observatory”

Construction moved ahead rapidly with reports that Russia has imported over 20,000 construction workers from all over Russia and CIS countries, The rebuilding effort has been accompanied by a barrage of posts on social media showing the progress being made in remodeling the city with bulldozers and heavy engineering equipment at work and satellite images showing how whole city blocks were being levelled to make way for the new vision.

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To former Ukrainian residents, who had been driven out of the city, this was not an attempt to create a utopia but something else. Sky News interviewed one, Karina Gurnak, who said:

“This isn’t for a better life, it’s not to clear up and build again, afresh – it’s not to say, ‘here, we are giving rebirth to Mariupol, life is coming back to the city...’

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“...No, this is done so that all the crimes are covered up.”

 Another Ukrainian who escaped the city, Katya Plechystova, was interviewed by ABC News in May this year: “I can’t imagine returning to the city because of all the pain and suffering I associate with it, because of all the pain my husband [ who fought at the Azovstal plant ] lived through in that city," she says. "I have this feeling inside of me that Mariupol was wiped out. There is nothing they could do to bring it back to me.”

 Dmytro Kozatsky who had fought in the Azovstal plant said: “I would love for the city to be rebuilt and reformed, but it’s very difficult for me now to imagine how that could be done.”

 However, so pleased were the Russian authorities with what they were doing that on March 18, President Putin (or someone who looked like him) came to put his stamp of approval on the rebuilding efforts.

 It seems that all the propaganda surrounding the reconstruction has caught the attention of the Russian public, especially those who “want to live by the sea in a place with good ecology,” as one potential buyer put it.

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 More than 100 groups have appeared on “VKontakte,” Russia’s version of Facebook, linked to the buying and selling of property in the city. The groups include those who already “own” property (which was probably confiscated from its original Ukrainian owner), construction firms and agents offering new properties for sale and individuals looking for homes either for their own use or as “holiday rentals.”

 Some of those looking for homes in the area said they would consider homes “in any condition” and were ready to restore them after last year’s shelling.

The independent Russian news outlet identified one of the largest on-line sites called “Real Estate of Mariupol and the Azov Region,” which included posts seeking houses or apartments that began to appear as early as May 2022, while the siege of the city was still on-going.

 Those looking for real estate in Mariupol include Russians from many different regions including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar, Krasnoyarsk, Nizhny Novgorod and others.

Some buyers contacted by the Russian news outlet Bumaga said that they not only recognized Mariupol as part of Russia but did not believe that Ukraine would ever be able to retake the city and, so, did not consider that buying property in the occupied city was risky.

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 They quoted a woman called Olesya, from Omsk who said:

“I consider this a good investment. Maybe it will seem strange to some people, but I believe in the development of the city. Under the protection of Russia, a great future awaits it. I think in the future it will become a popular place for recreation and tourism. It is of great importance for our country. The city is a hero.

“I have no fear that it may suffer due to hostilities. The worst thing that could happen there has already happened.”

Another respondent, Irina, from Krasnoyarsk told Bumaga: 

“My family and I started looking for housing in Mariupol, because we want to live by the sea in a place with good ecology. Also, in Mariupol there is still quite cheap real estate and more attractive salary offers for my husband who works as an electrician. And the ecology in the city is much better than in Krasnoyarsk.

“It is terrible that hostilities may begin there again, but the war will not go on forever.”

Strangely while carrying out its investigation into this bizarre situation, Meduza was unable to find offers for real estate in Mariupol on the usual Russian real estate site such as Cyan and Yandex Real Estate services but did find a number of ads on the Avito Russian classified advertisements website which had around 70 ads offering houses. Apartments and commercial premises in Mariupol.

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Avito is the most popular classifieds site in Russia and claims to be the biggest classifieds site in the world, with sections devoted to general goods for sale, jobs, real estate, personals, cars for sale, and other services.

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