War in Ukraine: The last redoubt of Ukrainian soldiers resisting the more than 50-day siege of Mariupol | International


Like a terminal patient, Mariupol’s life is measured in days, even hours. The Ukrainian city is still resisting after a Russian siege of more than 50 days. At the beginning of the Russian invasion, Mariupol had about 430,000 inhabitants. Today it is estimated that there are barely 100,000 left living among the ruins of a city that was once the most prosperous port on the Sea of ​​Azov.

After weeks of bombing that has devastated the city, Mariupol is controlled almost entirely by the Russian Army, but a small redoubt of the Ukrainian last resistance holds out in the huge Azovstal steel factory, located in the city’s port. The Ukrainian government does not give official figures on the number of Ukrainian soldiers resisting in the factory and inside its tunnels, but the Russian Defense Ministry estimates that there are about 2,500 men. A redoubt that has become a headache for Russia and, at the same time, Ukraine’s last line of defense to prevent the invading country from managing to unify its corridor between Crimea and eastern Ukraine, a line along the coast of the entire Sea of ​​Azov that would allow Moscow land access to the peninsula.

For the Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelenski, the fall of Mariupol and the death of the men entrenched in Azovstal would mean the end of the peace negotiations with Russia. As Zelensky explained in the media Ukrainska Pravda, the Ukrainian soldiers are surrounded. “The wounded are blocked. There is a humanitarian crisis (…) however, the boys are defending themselves, ”he said. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmitro Kuleba, agrees with his president and also considers that what happens from now on in Mariupol “may be a red line” that will bury the peace negotiations.

It was Kuleba himself who stated on Monday that the city of Mariupol “no longer exists” after the enormous material damage caused by the Russian attacks. “The city no longer exists. What remains of the Ukrainian Army and a large group of civilians are basically surrounded by Russian forces. They continue their fight, but it seems from the way the Russian Army is behaving in Mariupol that they have decided to raze the city to the ground at any cost,” the minister said.

Russia gave Ukraine an ultimatum on Sunday so that the resistance that holds in Mariupol lay down their weapons. If they didn’t, they would be “eliminated.” However, the Ukrainian soldiers ignored the deadline and warned that they would hold out until the end. “The city has not fallen yet,” Denis Shmihal, Ukraine’s prime minister, told ABC News on Sunday. “Our military forces are still there. They will fight to the end, and for now, they are still in Mariupol.”

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At the end of March, after more than three weeks of siege, Zelensky reported that 90% of the city had been destroyed. Under constant bombardment, Mariupol has been without electricity, water, communications, gas and food since the beginning of March. None of the services have been restored to date and no convoy with food and medicine has managed to reach the city because all have been blocked by the Russian Army. According to Liudmila Denisova, a human rights defender in Ukraine, the Russians are giving residents a loaf of bread and a bottle of water as the only help and from Monday they will begin requiring special permits to leave the city.

Thousands of Ukrainian citizens managed to leave the municipality in recent weeks on humanitarian corridors. However, neither this Sunday nor this Monday have new corridors been opened because the talks with Russia on a ceasefire to evacuate civilians had failed, as Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Irina Vereshchuk, has denounced. There are no official figures of people who have died in the city since the beginning of the bombing, but the City Council estimates that around 20,000 civilians have been killed during the Russian attacks and it is feared that the number could reach 35,000. Vadim Boichenko, the city’s mayor, said on Monday that Moscow has deported some 40,000 citizens to areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

After 54 days of war, the taking of Mariupol would mean Russia’s first relevant military victory. In 2014 there was already an attempt to take the city, but the Ukrainian Army managed to repel the attack of the pro-Russians who failed to expand the territory of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic. Now, however, with the city reduced to ashes and rubble, its fall into Russian hands seems inevitable and Russia is racing to come up with at least one major victory by May 9, the date on which the Victory Parade in Red Square in Moscow commemorating the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War II. At the same time, Mariupol, a city that is home to the three main steel factories in eastern Ukraine (Ilichovskaya, Azovstal and Azovmash), would be a major economic loss for Ukraine. The city, with its factories and its port, accounts for 5% of the country’s total GDP.

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