In early March of this year, just a week into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, two towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region – Volnovakha and Schastia – lay utterly destroyed after days of bombardment that targeted civilian infrastructure. By mid-April, bombs had destroyed 95% of the port city of Mariupol. Russian airstrikes, shelling, and missiles have also laid waste to hundreds of buildings in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odessa, and many other cities and suburbs, leading to over 4,800 civilian casualties so far, and over 12 million displaced persons.
Civilian deaths, displacement, and damage to residential and commercial districts are common outcomes of war. Whole cities are sometimes annihilated as a side-effect of bombardment intended to destroy enemy infrastructure including railroads, ports, military bases, industrial centers, and government buildings. Other times, civilian areas are targeted intentionally as a tactic intended to damage morale, as in the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – among the 17 cities destroyed by the U.S. in World War II.
To determine the most war damaged cities in history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical reports on cities that have been decimated by conflict, restricting our research to the last 200 years. A disproportionate number of the cities on the list were destroyed during World War II, which marked the pinnacle of the age of aerial bombardment of populated areas. This list is not exhaustive. For example, the American campaign to firebomb Japan resulted in the burning of an average of 40% of the 60 major cities targeted.
While a few of these cities were destroyed in a single day, many faced months or years of siege, airstrikes, and fierce urban combat that slowly turned them to rubble. Some cities, including Beirut, Dresden, and Ypres were known for their exquisite historic architecture before being decimated by war. Others, including Mosul, Aleppo, and Timbuktu were home to irreplaceable ancient buildings and artifacts that have been burned, looted, or destroyed.
Most bustling urban centers have been rebuilt – sometimes retaining the same architectural style as the destroyed area – while a few smaller villages were left in ruins as war memorials. Ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan have prevented certain cities in these countries from rebuilding, and many of their residents are currently displaced. (Some refugees from war-torn countries have come to the U.S. Here are the countries where most refugees arriving to the U.S. come from.)
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