Ukraine: Russia takes aggressive steps to capture Mariupol

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Donetsk’s pro-Russian separatist forces have assured this Thursday that they have taken control of the Mariupol center. After six weeks of war, the siege of the city has intensified because of its strategic value to Russia. Symbolizing the horrors of war, this municipality is the final obstacle for Vladimir Putin in controlling the Ukrainian coast of the Azov Sea. Just 40 kilometers from the Russian border, the capture of Mariupol would be a direct access route for the invader to other cities further south and under his control, Burdiansk, Melitopol and Kherson. Since then, only Mikolaiv and Odessa would be resisting the Russian invasion to control the Black Sea. On the contrary, Ukrainian officials confirm that the enemy continues outside Mariupol’s urban center.

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

Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic’s militia, has said “the main battle is over” in the center of Mariupol. Speaking to the Rossiya 24 channel of Russian state television, Basurin said that the fighting action has moved to the port and the Azovstal steelworks located on the outskirts. “We have already entered the port. Slowly we’re cleaning the area and we’re going to drive them out [a los efectivos ucranios] For the Azovstal industrial zone”, the military spokesman said.

Basurin said there were still about 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol, though he added that there is a section of the civilian population that is also fighting against the invader. Oleksiy Erestovich, adviser to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, assured at a press conference that Ukrainian troops were still protesting in Mariupol. Erestovich confirms that Russian forces have intensified efforts to capture the city.

a city in ashes

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Following the withdrawal of its troops in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Russia is focusing its military efforts in the eastern regions. The result is a humanitarian catastrophe without precedent in Europe since the breakup of Yugoslavia 30 years ago. According to Ukrainian officials, 90% of Mariupol is left in ruins, “destroyed to ashes”, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a videoconference speech before the Greek parliament on Thursday. “Its residents are dying of hunger and thirst,” he assured. Mariupol’s mayor, Vadim Boichenko, said further this Thursday that he feared about 5,000 civilians were killed in the city during the Russian siege. The latest number of civilian casualties across Ukraine by the United Nations Office of the High Representative for Human Rights brought a total of 1,563 dead and 2,213 injured.

A convoy of buses and cars to evacuate civilians from Mariupol on their way to Burdansk on 6 April.
A convoy of buses and cars to evacuate civilians from Mariupol on their way to Burdansk on 6 April.AP

Zelensky and his foreign minister, Dmitry Kuleba, insisted on Thursday that EU and NATO member states should increase arms supplies for their military. “We need anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems, as well as armour,” the Ukrainian leader claimed in front of the Greek deputies. The Greek-origin community in Ukraine has a significant historical presence in Black Sea cities such as Odessa or Mariupol. About 100,000 citizens of Greek origin live in the latter. This country’s head of foreign affairs, Nikos Dandias, has stepped forward from the summit of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, that he will request the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch 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 denied having committed any war crimes in Ukraine and responded that it was a case of fraud to defame Moscow.

Kuleba has participated as a guest at a NATO summit calling for more weapons and a wider range. “Each of you must help us now, and I am talking about days, not weeks, because otherwise your help will be too late,” he said. France and Germany are the subject of harsh criticism among Ukrainian citizens, but also among administration representatives consulted by EL PAS during the weeks that conflict remains; They believe that, unlike the United States, the two European powers are not providing adequate military aid.

Zelensky, in a message to NATO on 24 March, demanded that its members supply Ukraine with 1% of their armored vehicles and fighters. Ukraine has not received fighter jets from abroad and only the Czech Republic has agreed to send 50 Soviet-era armored units, T-72 tanks and BVP-1 vehicles made in the German Democratic Republic. Cansian, a consultant at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, elaborated in an April 1 report that the main drawback to supplying modern tanks and aircraft to Ukraine is that they require three to six months of training. Will be needed for the teams that run them. They also require a continuous supply system of components for repair which CSIS considers to be a very complex logistics organization.

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