Russia seized Mariupol on Friday, claiming what would be its biggest victory so far in its war with Ukraine, after nearly a three-month siege that turned the strategic port city into a smoking haven, where more than 20,000 civilians were feared dead. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has called President Vladimir Putin Mariupol – the last stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance – and the entire city “completely liberated,” spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. No immediate confirmation was received from Ukraine.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the ministry as saying that a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters trapped in the steelworks had surrendered since Monday, including more than 500 on Friday. As soon as they surrendered, the soldiers were taken prisoner by the Russians and at least some were taken to a former Punishment colony. Others were reportedly hospitalized.
The Steel Mill’s defense was led by the Azov Regiment of Ukraine, whose far-right sources were seized by the Kremlin as part of an attempt to invade Ukraine as part of a war against Nazi influence. Russia says the Azov commander was taken away from the plant in an armored vehicle.
Russian authorities have threatened to investigate some steel mill guards for war crimes and bring them to justice, identifying them as “Nazis” and criminals. This has sparked international concern about their fate. The steelworks, spread over 11 square kilometers, were the scene of fierce fighting for weeks. The declining group of gun fighters began drawing Russian air strikes, artillery and tank fire, before their government ordered them to abandon their plant defenses and save themselves.
The complete acquisition of Mariupol gave Putin a desperately needed victory in the war that began on February 24 – a conflict that was seen as an electric victory for the Kremlin but instead failed to capture Kiev’s capital, a pullback to re-focus forces on eastern Ukraine, and Russia. Sinking the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet.
Military analysts say Mariupol’s capture at the moment is largely symbolic, as the city is already effectively under Moscow’s control and most of the Russian troops trapped there as a result of the fighting have already left.
In other developments on Friday, the West has poured billions more into aid to Ukraine, and fighting is raging in Donbass, the industrial hub of eastern Ukraine, which Putin is keen to seize. Ukrainian authorities say Russian forces shelled a key highway and attacked a key town in the Luhansk region, hitting a school among other sites. Luhansk is part of the Donbass.
The Kremlin sought control of Mariupol to complete a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which it occupied from Ukraine in 2014 and freed troops to join the larger battle for Donbass. The loss of the city also deprives Ukraine of an important seaport.
Mariupol endured the worst of the war and became a symbol of global disobedience. An estimated 100,000 people remain outside the pre-war population of 450,000, many trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. The incessant bombardment left rows upon rows of shattered or hollow buildings.
A maternity hospital was hit by a deadly Russian airstrike on March 9, creating a grim picture of pregnant women being evacuated. One week later, a bomb blast near the theater killed at least 300 people and injured hundreds more, although the actual death toll could be closer to 600.
Satellite images from April showed what appeared to be a mass grave just outside Mariupol, where local officials accused Russia of covering up the killings by burying 9,000 civilians. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday that his troops had been evacuated from miles and miles of tunnels and bunkers below Azovstal to save the lives of fighters.
Earlier this month, hundreds of civilians were evacuated from the plant during a humanitarian ceasefire, citing the horrors of incessant bombings, the dark conditions underground and the fear they would not survive. As they approached the end of Azovstal, the wives of the warriors who were stationed at the steelworks said they feared they would have last contact with their husbands.
Olga Boiko, the wife of a seafarer, wiped away tears because she said her husband wrote to her on Thursday: “Hello. We surrender, I don’t know when I will contact you and if I will at all. Love you Kiss you Goodbye. “Natalia Zaritskaya, the wife of another Azvastal fighter, says that based on the messages she has seen in the last two days,” now they are on the road from hell to hell. Every inch of this path is deadly. ” She said that two days earlier, her husband had reported that of the 32 soldiers she had worked with, only eight survived, most of them seriously injured.
Although Russia has described the withdrawal of troops from the steel plant as a mass surrender, Ukrainians have called it a “mission-fulfilling” mission. They say the fighters have tied up Moscow’s forces and hampered their efforts to occupy the east.
Mikhailo Podoliak, one of Zelensky’s advisers, described Mariupol’s defense as “the thermopile of the twenty-first century” – a reference to the most glorious defeat in history, where 300 Spartans held a large Persian army in 480 BC before finally committing suicide. .