In a harrowing account of being targeted by Russian soldiers amid the invasion of Ukraine, video photojournalist Mstyslav Chernov of The Associated Press describes how he and photographer Evgeniy Maloletka escaped the besieged city of Mariupol.

Chernov, who told AP correspondent Lori Hinnant of his experiences over the past three weeks, says he came of age in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, just 20 miles from the Russian border. Shortly after Russian forces began bombing civilian targets in Kharkiv, Chernov says he understood Moscow would look to the eastern port city of Mariupol as a strategic location due to its proximity to the Sea of Azov.

On 23 February, he and fellow Ukrainian photojournalist and longtime colleague Maloletka set off for Mariupol in a white Volkswagen van. They pulled into the city at 3:30 a.m., and the war started an hour later.

For more than two weeks, Chernov and Maloletka were the only international journalists documenting the siege of Mariupol.

During that time, the journalists documented the horrific human toll of Russian bombing, including the targeting of apartment buildings and a maternity hospital. While much of the city lacked electricity and heat, the journalists’ only link to the outside world was a satellite phone.

”By this time I had witnessed deaths at the hospital, corpses in the streets, dozens of bodies shoved into a mass grave,” Chernov said. “I had seen so much death that I was filming almost without taking it in.”

Photographs of a 9 March airstrike on maternity hospital in Mariupol — along with images of injured women and infants — were seen around the world and helped galvanize public opinion against the barbarism of Russian military attacks on Ukrainian people.

Chernov describes a group of Ukrainian soldiers who were sent to escort the journalists to safety in order to tell the story of human suffering.

“If they catch you, they will get you on camera and they will make you say that everything you filmed is a lie,” a police officer told Chernov “All your efforts and everything you have done in Mariupol will be in vain.”

Read the full account at The Associated Press.