Mariupol was on the brink of falling to Russia on Wednesday night in a major victory for the Kremlin, after around 1,000 Ukrainian marines reportedly surrendered and Russia’s ministry of defence claimed it had taken control of the city’s port.
Footage broadcast on Russian state television purportedly showed Ukrainian troops giving themselves up after holding out in the key besieged port city since the outbreak of war on February 24.
Soldiers emerging from a bunker at a steelworks were filmed walking with their hands up while one man helping to carry a comrade on a stretcher could be seen waving a white cloth.
Russia said 1,026 Ukrainian marines holed up at Ilyich iron and steelworks in the city’s industrial district had been forced to surrender, including 162 officers, after putting up a last stand. Kyiv dismissed the claim.
Unverified posts from the Kremlin’s defence ministry added that members of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade had ‘voluntarily laid down arms’. Russia’s defence ministry also claimed last night that it had taken control of Mariupol’s port.
Pictured: Video appears to show Ukrainian Marines surrendering in the Eastern city of Mariupol. Russia claimed 1,026 Ukrainian marines holed up at Ilyich iron and steelworks in the city’s industrial district had been forced to surrender, including 162 officers
The city has been surrounded for the vast majority of the seven-week invasion and large areas have been reduced to rubble, with images from the city reminiscent of those seen in Allepo, Syria and Grozny, Chechnya – also razed by Russian forces.
Moscow is facing claims that it committed war crimes following the shelling of a maternity hospital and the bombing of a theatre sheltering families which left hundreds dead. The true toll is not yet known.
The city’s mayor has said a total of about 21,000 civilians have been killed during the fighting and seemingly indiscriminate shelling of the city.
However, the Ukrainian resistance, including men who stayed to fight when their families fled, had managed to cling on to control of the city, trying to protect an estimated 100,000 civilians left behind.
Yesterday, as Russian troops closed in and were accused of targeting anyone attempting to leave, one Ukrainian MP compared the situation to the Holocaust.
Petro Andriuschenko, an adviser to the mayor, said Ukraine still held several areas of the city including a separate steelworks at Azovstal – one of Europe’s largest – and the harbour.
Capturing its Azovstal industrial district, where the marines have been holed up, would give the Russians full control of Ukraine’s main Sea of Azov port, reinforce a southern land corridor and expand its occupation of the country’s East.
Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces were attacking Azovstal and the port, but a defence ministry spokesman said he had no information about any surrender.
‘Russian forces are increasing their activities on the southern and eastern fronts, attempting to avenge their defeats,’ Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a Wednesday night video address.
The city’s mayor Vadym Boychenko insisted that the city was yet to fall, but acknowledged remaining troops were ‘vastly outnumbered’.
‘When they say they’re made of steel, we should know that steel also has its breaking point, but they are holding out and the city of Mariupol remains a Ukrainian city,’ he said.
Boychenko, said Russia had brought in mobile crematoria ‘to get rid of evidence of war crimes’ – a statement that was not possible to verify.
Moscow has blamed Ukraine for civilian deaths and accused Kyiv of denigrating Russian armed forces.
A squad of Russian soldiers load a long belt of cannon shells into one of their armoured vehicles, April 12, 2022
A service member of pro-Russian troops loads rocket into an infantry combat vehicle during fighting in Ukraine-Russia conflict near a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works company in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 12, 2022
Earlier this week the 36th Marine Brigade said it was preparing for a final battle in Mariupol which would likely end in death or capture.
Last night there were claims that remaining marines had joined the ultranationalist Azov brigade following a ‘complex and very risky’ escape operation.
Regardless, military experts said the fall of Mariupol appeared to be a matter of ‘hours, not days’.
Zelensky, in a forthright address yesterday, did not acknowledge claims about the surrender in Mariupol.
He instead released a video in English issuing a call for the West to send more ‘heavy weapons’ to prevent an ‘endless bloodbath’.
Denysenko, advisor to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, denied the claim of a surrender in comments to the Current Time TV channel, saying that they haven’t heard anything like that and the battle over the sea port is ongoing.
‘According to official data of (Ukraine’s) Defense Ministry and the General Staff, we haven’t heard anything like that,’ Denysenko said. ‘Moreover, I will say … that the battle over the sea port is still ongoing today.’
Yesterday, Ukrainian MP Dmytro Gurin said it was ‘almost impossible’ for any remaining civilians to survive in the city with food and water scarce, amid claims Russian troops were targeting those attempting to escape.
He added that the situation was akin to scenes at Auschwitz during the Second World War and worse than the Srebrenica massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War.
Before the war, Mariupol was home to 400,000. Its capture would represent Russia’s biggest success during the invasion so far.
It would give its forces full control of the Sea of Azov coast and a secure land bridge linking mainland Russia and pro-Russian separatist territory in the east with the Crimean peninsula which was grabbed by Moscow in 2014.
This would allow Russian forces to unite and join a larger offensive against Ukrainian forces in the east.
Ukrainian fighters were putting up a last stand in tunnels under an abandoned Azovstal steel plant (pictured) in Mariupol as Russian forces close in on the besieged port city
Experts say the fall of Mariupol, seen as strategically vital for Russian plans to attack eastern Ukraine , is inevitable. But holdouts in their underground bases at the steelworks (pictured) hope to make conquering the Sea of Azov port as hard as possible for the attackers
The Kremlin’s nearly seven-week-long incursion, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945, has not gone to plan.
Russia has been forced to pull back from some northern areas even as attacks across the country have turned Ukrainian cities to rubble and caused more than 4.6 million people to flee abroad.
The Kremlin denounced President Joe Biden’s description of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine as amounting to genocide, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying this was unacceptable coming from the leader of a country he said had committed crimes of its own. The White House said a legal process will be undertaken.
The United States announced on Wednesday an extra $800 million in military assistance including artillery systems, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters. This took total U.S. military aid to more than $2.5 billion. France and Germany also pledged more.
Russia will view U.S. and NATO vehicles transporting weapons on Ukrainian territory as legitimate military targets, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the TASS news agency.
An initial report by a mission of experts set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe documents a ‘catalogue of inhumanity’ by Russian troops in Ukraine, according to the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE.
‘This includes evidence of direct targeting of civilians, attacks on medical facilities, rape, executions, looting and forced deportation of civilians to Russia,’ Michael Carpenter said.
Russian servicemen (pictured) on Tuesday secured Mariupol’s Drama Theatre which was destroyed in a missile strike on March 16
At least 300 people died when Mariupol’s drama theatre (pictured, Russian servicemen secure the destroyed building) was targeted in a Russian missile strike, despite being marked ‘children’
Russia has denied targeting civilians and has said Ukrainian and Western allegations of war crimes are fabricated.
The Kyiv district police chief said 720 bodies had been found in the region around the capital from where Russian forces had retreated, with more than 200 people missing.
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan said after visiting Bucha, a town where bound bodies of people apparently shot at close range were found, that Ukraine was a ‘crime scene’ and this was within ICC jurisdiction.
‘We have to pierce the fog of war to get to the truth,â Khan said on Twitter.
The mayor of the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest, said bombing had increased significantly on Wednesday and satellite photos from Maxar Technologies showed long columns of armoured vehicles in the region.
At least seven people were killed, including a two-year-old boy, and 22 wounded in Kharkiv over the past 24 hours. Ukrainian forces shot down two Russian planes attacking towns in the region, regional Governor Oleh Synehubov said earlier.
Reuters could not immediately verify his statement but filmed people in Kharkiv quietly carrying bodies from an apartment block hit by shelling.