On Thursday morning, Russian forces claimed victory in Mariupol.
The city, which had a population of over 430,000 before the war, has been under constant siege since the invasion. Water and gas have been cut off in the city, and there have been wide reports of war crimes in the area. Russian forces have managed to take most of Mariupol, and now control 80% of the Donetsk region. As their hold on the city tightens, it is reported that over 120,000 civilians are still attempting to flee. However, evacuation buses are few and far in between, and due to the presence of frequent military checkpoints, an evacuation convoy that would usually arrive in 4 hours, now takes a full day.
This comes as a wider refugee crisis unfolding in Ukraine. According to the UN, in addition to the 5 million people who have left the country since Russia invaded, over 7.7 million people are displaced within the country, fleeing from cities like Mariupol, where it is estimated that 90% has been damaged or destroyed as a result of the fighting.
Last Remaining Holdout
Despite claiming victory, Russian troops have not been able to gain complete control of the city. The Azovstal steel plant remains a Ukrainian stronghold, with 2000 Ukrainian troops remaining in the site’s 24km of tunnels and bunkers. Although a complete siege has been canceled (likely because Russian forces would be unable to take it, according to the office of the Ukrainian President), Putin has ordered a blockade of the plant so tight that “not even a fly can escape”. According to Britain’s defense minister, Russia’s attempts to take Mariupol are part of a wider effort to claim a symbolic victory ahead of the country’s Victory Day on May 9th, celebrating its defeat of Nazi Germany in WW2.
The West Responds
As the fighting continues, the West is boosting financial and military aid for Ukraine, as well as increasing the scale of sanctions against Russia. On Thursday, the US announced a further $800m of aid to Ukraine. This comes as Denmark pledges another $90m in Ukrainian aid, and as Spain sends 200 tonnes of ammunition and military supplies to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the UK has announced a new package of 26 sanctions targeting military generals, individuals, and companies that are aiding Russia in the war.
The Future of Mariupol
As of this moment, the future of Mariupol is unclear. Reports of who is the victor are conflicting, with both sides claiming to control parts of the city. What we do know is that in deserted streets and destroyed apartment blocks, the Russian and Ukrainian militaries continue their fight over the fate of the once bustling metropolis. Meanwhile, the rest of the world watches on anxiously, waiting for their next move.
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