Ukraine: Russia steps up offensive to take Mariupol | International

The pro-Russian separatist forces of Donetsk have assured this Thursday that they have taken control of the center of Mariupol. After six weeks of war, the siege of this city has intensified due to its strategic value for Russia. Symbol of the horrors of war, this municipality is the last obstacle for Vladimir Putin to control the Ukrainian coast of the Sea of ​​Azov. Just 40 kilometers from the Russian border, the occupation of Mariupol would be a direct access route for the invader to the other cities further south and under his control, Berdiansk, Melitopol and Kherson. From then on, only Mikolaiv and Odessa would be resisting the Russian offensive to control the Black Sea. The Ukrainian authorities affirm, on the contrary, that the enemy continues outside the urban center of Mariupol.

The absence of journalists and international observers in Mariupol makes it impossible to verify the veracity of the information provided by both sides. It is even difficult for Ukraine for the Russian government to allow humanitarian corridors constantly and safely to evacuate the population trapped between the artillery and the ruins. It is estimated that there are still about 120,000 people in the city, a quarter of the population registered before the war. Data regularly provided by Irina Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, indicates that nearly 3,800 people have managed to leave Mariupol and Berdyansk daily in the last week. Despite the proximity to Russia of the eastern Ukrainian provinces, only 8% of the 4.3 million displaced by the war abroad have chosen to take refuge in Russian territory.

The spokesman for the militias of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Eduard Basurin, has stated that in the center of Mariupol “the main fighting has ended”. Speaking to Rossia 24 channel of Russian state television, Basurin added that the fighting actions have moved to the port and the Azovstal steelworks, located on the outskirts. “In the port we already entered. Little by little we are cleaning this territory and we are expelling them [a los efectivos ucranios] to the Azovstal industrial zone”, said the military spokesman.

Basurin added that there are still some 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol, although he added that there is part of the civilian population that is also fighting against the invader. The advisor to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Oleksi Arestovich, assured at a press conference that the Ukrainian troops are still resisting in Mariupol. Arestovich has confirmed that the Russian Army has intensified efforts to take the city.

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A city in ashes

After the withdrawal of its troops in kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, Russia is concentrating its military effort in the eastern regions. The result is a human catastrophe without precedent in Europe since the breakup of Yugoslavia 30 years ago. According to the Ukrainian authorities, 90% of Mariupol has been left in ruins, “destroyed to ashes”, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday in a videoconference speech before the Greek Parliament. “Its inhabitants are dying of hunger and thirst,” he assured. The mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boichenko, has advanced this Thursday that he fears that some 5,000 civilians have died in the city during the Russian siege. A total of 1,563 dead and 2,213 injured are the data from the latest count of civilian casualties throughout Ukraine by the United Nations Office of the High Representative for Human Rights.

A convoy of buses and cars to evacuate citizens of Mariupol, en route to Berdansk, on April 6.AP

Zelenski and his Foreign Minister, Dimitri Kuleba, have insisted on Thursday that the member states of the European Union and NATO must increase the supply of weapons for their Army. “We need anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems, as well as armor,” the Ukrainian leader claimed before the Greek deputies. The community of Greek origin in Ukraine has a significant historical presence in the Black Sea cities such as Odessa or Mariupol. About 100,000 citizens with Greek roots live in the latter. The head of foreign affairs of this country, Nikos Dendias, has advanced from the summit of NATO Foreign Ministers, in Brussels, that they will request the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into possible war crimes in the besieged city. Ukraine and its allies have evidence of indiscriminate Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools or housing complexes. Russia denies having committed any war crimes in Ukraine and replies that it is a matter of fraud to discredit Moscow.

Kuleba has participated as a guest at the NATO summit to demand a greater quantity of weapons and a larger scope. “Each of you must help us now, and I am talking about days, not weeks, because otherwise your help will come too late,” he said. France and Germany are the object of harsh criticism among Ukrainian citizens, but also among the representatives of the Administration consulted by EL PAÍS during the weeks that the conflict lasts; they consider that, unlike the United States, the two European powers are not providing sufficient military support.

Zelensky demanded on March 24 in a message to NATO that its members supply Ukraine with 1% of its armored vehicles and combat aircraft. Ukraine has not received fighters from abroad and only the Czech Republic has agreed to send fifty Soviet-era armored units, T-72 tanks and BVP-1 vehicles made in the German Democratic Republic. Mark F. Cancian, a consultant to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, detailed in an April 1 report that the main drawback to supplying modern tanks and planes to Ukraine is that they would require three to six months of training. for the teams that operate them. They also require a constant supply system of components for repairs that the CSIS considers to be a very complex logistical organization.

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