March 29, 2023

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Putin claims victory in Mariupol, leaving Ukrainian defenders holed up

Putin claims victory in Mariupol, leaving Ukrainian defenders holed up
  • “There is no need to go up to these catacombs,” Putin says.
  • Ukraine seeks talks on fate of defenders, civilians
  • The decision in Mariupol will end the biggest battle of the war

Kyiv (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin declared victory in the biggest battle of Ukraine’s war on Thursday and declared the port of Mariupol liberated after nearly two months of a siege, even though hundreds of defenders are still trapped inside a giant steel refinery. Works.

In a televised meeting with his defense minister inside the Kremlin, Putin said there was no need for a final confrontation with the last defenders who had been trapped after surviving the Russian siege for nearly two months.

“I consider the storming of the industrial zone unnecessary,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a televised interview in the Kremlin. “I ask you to cancel it.”

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“There is no need to climb into the catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,” he said. “They closed this industrial area so that not even a fly could cross.”

Shoigu estimated that 2,000 Ukrainian fighters remained inside the plant. Putin called on them to lay down their arms and surrender, saying that Russia would treat them with respect.

Asked for comment on Russia’s decision to ban steel plants instead of storming them, a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokeswoman said the move testified to Putin’s “dissociative inclinations” and gave no further response.

Announcing Putin’s victory allows him to claim his first big prize since he expelled his forces from northern Ukraine last month after he failed to capture the capital, Kyiv.

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Civil suffering

Mariupol, once home to 400,000 people, was the scene of the war’s worst fighting and humanitarian catastrophe, with hundreds of thousands of civilians isolated for nearly two months under Russian siege and bombardment.

Journalists who came to him during the siege found the streets littered with corpses, almost all buildings were destroyed, the inhabitants froze in cellars, and ventured out to cook excrement on makeshift stoves or to bury corpses in gardens.

Two incidents in particular have become emblematic of what the West calls Kyiv and Russian war crimes – the bombing of a maternity hospital and, a week later, the bombing of a theater with hundreds of civilians in its basement. Moscow denies targeting civilians and says without evidence that the incidents are fake.

Ukraine estimates that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in Mariupol. It says some were buried in mass graves, while others were taken off the streets by Russian forces, using mobile crematorium trucks to cremate the bodies. The United Nations and the Red Cross say the number of civilian deaths is still unknown, but in the thousands at least.

Russia’s intensified campaign to seize swathes of eastern Ukraine has reduced the prospects of stalling peace talks that would lead to any quick agreement to end the war.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was still waiting for Kyiv’s response to its proposal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday he had neither seen nor heard of the document the Kremlin said it had sent.

no giving up

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Shoigu told Putin that Russia had killed more than 4,000 Ukrainian soldiers in its campaign to capture Mariupol and that 1,478 had surrendered. These numbers cannot be verified. Two of the British surrendered.

Azovstal is one of the largest metallurgical structures in Europe, covering 11 square kilometers, containing huge buildings, underground bunkers and tunnels.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Irina Verychuk said the humanitarian corridor agreed to evacuate civilians from the factory did not work as planned, blaming Russian forces. She added that 1,000 civilians and 500 wounded must be evacuated immediately.

A commander in the far-right Azov Battalion, a former militia that has now joined Ukraine’s National Guard, rejected Russia’s call for surrender, but urged the rescue of civilians.

“We do not accept the conditions set by the Russian Federation on giving up our weapons and our defenders who give up themselves as prisoners,” Svyatoslav Balamar said in a video message.

Russia has blocked all efforts by Ukraine to send aid to Mariupol or send buses to evacuate civilians to Ukrainian-controlled territory, and Kyiv accuses it of forcibly deporting tens of thousands of residents to Russia.

Moscow says Russia has taken in 140,000 civilians from Mariupol in humanitarian evacuations. Kyiv says some of them were deported by force, in what could be considered a war crime.

Donbass batch

Mariupol is the link that Moscow needs to provide a secure connection between the territory controlled by the separatists it supports in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine and the peninsula it seized in 2014.

It is also the main port of the Donbass region, two provinces that Moscow demands Ukraine cede completely to the separatists in what the Kremlin now describes as the main objective of the war.

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After failing to capture Kyiv last month and forcing it to withdraw from northern Ukraine, Russia has regrouped to launch a major new offensive this week in Donbass, pushing from several directions to try to encircle Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine said that Russian forces have so far failed to fully capture Robyzhny, a town in the Donbass that has been the focus of its advance. The mayor said the city of Kharkiv, near the Russian supply lines to the Donbass, was subjected to heavy bombardment.

British military intelligence said Russian forces were eager to show great success by May 9, the anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe in World War II.

Russia describes its incursion as a “special military operation” to disarm and “discredit” Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies reject this as a false excuse to launch an illegal war of aggression.

US President Joe Biden will provide an update on Ukraine at 9:45 a.m. (1345 GMT) Thursday as he works to complete a new weapons package, which is likely to be of similar size to the $800 million announced last week, in the United States. official said.

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Coverage by Reuters journalists. Written by Peter Graf. Editing by Kevin Levy

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.