The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, celebrated the “success” of his troops in taking the port city of Mariupolin the south-east of Ukraine, which ensure the union of several loyal territories, and ruled out a final assault on the industrial zone where the last resisters barricaded themselves to avoid deaths on both sides.
After enduring almost two months of siege and bombardment, the last ukrainian troops is it so hidden in the huge Azovstal steelworks of this city on the Sea of Azov, strategic in Moscow’s plan to unite the pro-Russian territories of Donbass and the Crimean peninsula, already annexed in 2014.
The ultimatums issued by Russia did not achieve the surrender of these soldiers. One of its commanders, Sviatoslav Palamar of the Azov battalion, asked Western countries for security “guarantees” to leave the compound.
In this context, “I consider that the proposed assault on the industrial zone is not appropriate. I order annul it“he declared Putin in a meeting with his defense minister, Serguei Shoigu, broadcast on television.
“You have to think (…) about the lives of our soldiers and officers, you don’t have to go into those catacombs and crawl underground,” he continued. “Block the entire area so that not even a fly passes.”he ordered.
Minister Shoigu indicated that some 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers are resisting in that complex, reported the AFP, Sputnik and Europa Press news agencies.
Almost since the beginning of the conflict on February 24, Mariupol has been one of the places where the Russian offensive has concentrated. The local authorities fear the death of more than 20,000 people in the town, due to the bombing, but also due to the lack of water, food and electricity.
The Russian army has controlled much of the city for days and even allowed the entry of some Western journalists who were able to see its devastated streets.
The Kremlin ruled out that those barricaded in the steel plant could prevent the return of the city to normality.
“The Ukrainian fighters blocked in Azovstal will not in any way influence the restoration of peaceful life in the city,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, quoted by Sputnik, this afternoon.
During the siege, civilian evacuations were sporadic and often dangerous. Even so, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk announced today that four groups with civilians were able to leave the city and others are expected to leave during the day.
Ahead of them will be a 200-kilometre journey to Zaporizhia, dotted with numerous checkpoints in the midst of a region immersed in fighting.
Since the end of March, when Russia withdrew its troops from the north and around kyiv, eastern and southern Ukraine have become the main theater of the war.
Russian forces “maintain their artillery fire on the entire front line,” Ukrainian authorities said this morning.
The fighting is particularly intense around Izium (northeast), there is “incessant shelling” in Popasna and Rubizhne in the Lugansk region (east) and new attacks in Mikolaiv (south), on the road to Odessa, which have left a dead and two wounded, Governor Vitali Kim said.
The local authorities called on the civilian population to leave the front area, especially after the discovery of dozens of bodies in several towns near kyiv occupied until the end of March by the invading forces.
Since then, “1,020 civilian bodies, only civilians,” have arrived at morgues in the kyiv region, Olga Stefanishina, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, told AFP from Borodianka.
In that city, 54 kilometers from the capital, the police reported the discovery of nine bodies of civilians buried in two graves.
“These people were killed by the (Russian) occupiers and some of the victims show signs of torture,” said local police chief Andrii Nebitov.
The Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, arrived in kyiv on Thursday and immediately went to Borodianka, where he attended the discovery of the bodies.
“Moved to see in the streets of Borodianka the horror and atrocities of Putin’s war,” the Spanish head of government wrote on Twitter, along with an image of a ruined part of the city, which he was able to visit. “We will not leave the Ukrainian people alone,” he added.
The parade of Western leaders continues in kyiv.
On Wednesday, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, was visiting, promising that the European Union will do everything possible to “ensure that Ukraine wins the war”, and Sánchez and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen arrived in the Ukrainian capital today.
Some Western diplomats fear, however, that the lengthening of the war will weaken the unity of action in the measures against Russia.
If the war is concentrated in Donbasss, far from kyiv and the NATO borders, the West’s sense of urgency and unity may ultimately diminish. “It’s a challenge,” a diplomat told AFP.
The battle for Donbass, the eastern mining basin where Ukraine has been fighting pro-Russian separatists since 2015 after failing to comply with what it had promised in two peace agreements signed in Minsk -allowing the teaching of the Russian language in schools and the election of regional authorities, among other things-, it is advertised long.
The capture of Mariupol and the establishment of a corridor under Russian control to the Crimean peninsula may allow Moscow to strengthen its positions on the line further north, near Kharkov, the second Ukrainian city.
At the same time, the Ukrainian resistance appears fierce, especially with the substantial increase in military aid from the United States and several of its Western allies.
After delaying a decision, Israel indicated on Wednesday that it agreed to send protective equipment to Ukraine for the first time.. And on Thursday, the German government assured that kyiv would soon receive “battle and armored cars” from Eastern European countries.