The mayor says there are an estimated 120,000 people in the city, out of Mariupol’s pre-war population of about 450,000.
The Ukrainians’ struggle has scuttled Moscow’s plans, tied up key Russian troops and delayed a planned offensive in eastern Ukraine’s industrial heartland, Donbas. The Kremlin hopes an attack in the east could turn Russia’s fate on the battlefield after a humiliating failure to quickly storm the capital Kiev.
Mariupol has been a key target for Russia since the beginning of the February 24 invasion. By taking the city, Moscow could set up a land corridor to Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014 and deprive Ukraine of an important port and valuable industrial assets.
Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, described the situation in Mariupol as “complicated”, saying fighting continues in industrial areas and the port, and that Russia has used a long-range Tu-22М3 bomber for the first time to attack. fall the city.
The giant steel plant in Azovstal and other factories have been badly damaged by the Russian bombing that destroyed much of Mariupol, indiscriminately hitting homes, hospitals and other public buildings and killing thousands.
Among the victims are about 300 people who died in last month’s Russian airstrike on the Mariupol Drama Theater used as a shelter, which had the word ‘CHILDREN’ printed on the sidewalk in large white letters in Russian to deter airstrikes. to keep out.
Mayor Vadym Boychenko told The Associated Press that at least 21,000 people have been killed in Mariupol with bodies “carpeted through the streets”. He said the Russians have deployed mobile cremation equipment to methodically remove the bodies in order to hide evidence of the massacre and prevent international organizations from documenting “the horror for which the Russian military is responsible.”
The bodies of more than 900 civilians have been found in the Kiev region after the withdrawal of Russian troops, Andriy Nebytov, chief of the regional police, said many were “simply executed”. The death toll has doubled what was announced nearly two weeks ago, a discovery that has sparked global outrage and accusations from Ukrainians and the West that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine.
Moscow deployed Chechnya fighters, known for their brutality, to fight street battles in Mariupol. Ramzan Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed leader of Chechnya, has repeatedly bragged on his messaging app channel about beating Ukrainians in Mariupol, but the battle continues.
Boychenko said several Ukrainian units are still fighting in Mariupol, including the 36th Marine Brigade, troops from the Interior Ministry, border guards and the Azov regiment of the National Guard, which Russia singles out as a special villain for its far-right ideology.
The Azov Regiment, an experienced volunteer force widely regarded as one of the most capable units in the country, defends the Azovstal factory covering an area of nearly 11 square kilometers (more than 4.2 square miles). It has taken advantage of the factory’s sprawling network of concrete buildings and underground facilities to fend off ongoing Russian attacks.
The 36th Marine Brigade maintained defensive positions at the Azovmash and Zavod Ilyicha factories until they ran out of supplies and ammunition and made a desperate attempt earlier this week to break through the Russian blockade.
In a post on the brigade’s Facebook page, one of its officers described how “more than a month the Marines fought without replenishing ammunition, food and water supplies.”
“The wounded accounted for nearly half the brigade’s strength, but those who still had their limbs and were able to walk reported back to work,” it says.
Boychenko said some Marines managed to join the Azov regiment, while others were captured by the Russians. He gave no numbers.
The Russian military said on Thursday that a total of 1,160 Ukrainian marines surrendered this week, a claim that could not be independently verified.
As Ukrainian forces continue to offer fierce resistance in Mariupol, fears have grown that the exasperated Russians might resort to chemical weapons to tackle remaining resistance in the Azovstal plant and other parts of the city.
Eduard Basurin, a separatist official in eastern Ukraine allied with Russia, appeared to call that on Monday, telling Russian state television that Russian-backed troops would have to block all exits from the factory and then “use chemical troops to get them out of the factory.” factory to smoke. there.” He later said no chemical weapons were used.
The Azov regiment claimed Monday, without providing evidence, that a drone dropped a toxic substance onto its positions but inflicted no serious injuries. A Ukrainian defense official said the attack may have involved phosphorus munitions.
Ukrainian authorities have said the Russians have blocked humanitarian convoys from reaching Mariupol, leaving it without food, water and power since the beginning of the siege. Russian forces have returned buses sent to evacuate residents, but about 150,000 have been able to flee the city in their own vehicles.
Boychenko said at least 33,500 and possibly up to 50,000 residents of Mariupol were transferred to “filtration camps” in the separatist-controlled east before being forcibly sent to distant, economically deprived areas of Russia.
Mariupol has seen communication cut off since the beginning of the siege, and when the Russians captured parts of the city, they launched radio broadcasts to brainwash the population.
“They unleashed propaganda and told people that Kiev and other cities have been taken and abandoned,” Boychenko said.
The ongoing fighting has forced the Russian army to keep a significant number of troops in the city, slowing down the eastern offensive.
“As long as the street fighting continues, Russia cannot remove troops from Mariupol and send them to other areas, including Donbas,” Oleh Zhdanov, an independent military expert, told the AP.
“The Ukrainian troops in Mariupol are still fulfilling their main task of diverting Russian troops from other areas. Mariupol remains an important symbol of the Ukrainian resistance.”
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine