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Siege of Mariupol

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Coordinates: 47°05′53″N 37°36′36″E / 47.098°N 37.61°E / 47.098; 37.61

Siege of Mariupol
Part of the Eastern Ukraine offensive of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
Situation in Mariupol.svg
The situation in Mariupol, as of 28 April 2022
Date24 February 2022 – present
(2 months, 3 weeks and 1 day)
Location
Status

Ongoing

  • Russian forces completely besiege the city on 2 March[1] and reach the center of Mariupol on 18 March[2][3]
  • 95% of all structures inside the city damaged or destroyed[4]
  • Last Ukrainian forces surrounded in the Azovstal steel plant[5]
Belligerents
 Ukraine
Commanders and leaders
Aleksandr Dvornikov (Cmdr. of Russian forces in Ukraine)[6][7]
Mikhail Mizintsev[8] (Head of the NDCC)
Andrei Sukhovetsky [9] (41st CAA, place of death disputed)
Adam Delimkhanov[10]
Oleg Mityaev [11] (150th Rifle Div.)[11]
Andrei Paliy [12] (Black Sea Fleet landing forces)[12]
Alexei Sharov [ja; pl; uk] [13] (810th Naval Brig.)[13]
Ruslan Geremeyev[14]
Zamid Chalaev [ru; zh][15]
Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin[16][17]
Donetsk People's Republic Timur Kurilkin[17]
Donetsk People's Republic Taras Gordienko [18]
Donetsk People's Republic Alexander Khodakovsky[19]
Volodymyr Baranyuk (POW)[20][21][22]
(36th Separate Marine Brigade)[23]
Denys Prokopenko
(Azov Battalion)[24]
Dmytro Kormyankov (POW)[20]
(36th Separate Marine Brigade)[20]
Serhiy Volynskyi [uk]
(36th Separate Marine Brigade)[25]
Svyatoslav Palamar
(Azov Battalion)[26]
Denys Shleha
(12th Operational Brigade [ru; uk])[27]
Units involved

 Russian Armed Forces

Donetsk People's Republic DPR People's Militia

 Ukrainian Armed Forces
Inside Mariupol:[32]

Other involved units:
 Ukrainian Ground Forces

Territorial Defense Forces[39]
Ukrainian Volunteer Army[34]

Sheikh Mansur Battalion[a][40][41]
Strength
14,000 personnel[42]

3,500 personnel[42]

Casualties and losses

Per Ukraine:[45]
6,000 killed

Per Ukraine (810th Naval Infantry Brigade only):
158 killed, 500 wounded, 70 missing[46]
Per Ukraine (Spetsnaz GRU only):
14 killed[31]
Per Meduza (Naval Infantry only):
115 killed[47]

Per Russia:[48]
4,000+ killed,
1,464 captured,
1–4 Mil Mi-8 helicopters shot down[49][50]

Per Ukraine:
Unknown number of killed,[51]
1,000+ captured,[51]
600–700 wounded[52][53]
Per Ukraine:
6,000–21,000+ civilians killed[54][55]
20,000–30,000 people deported[56] to camps and remote cities in Russia[57]

The siege of Mariupol is an ongoing military engagement between Russia and the Donetsk People's Republic separatists against Ukraine which began on 24 February 2022, during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, as part of the Eastern Ukraine offensive. The city of Mariupol is located in the Donetsk Oblast in Ukraine and is claimed by the Russian-backed separatist Donetsk People's Republic. Russian forces completely besieged the city on 2 March, after which they gradually gained control of the city.[1] By 22 April, the remaining Ukrainian forces had retreated to the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, a massive and highly defensible industrial complex.[58][35][48]

The Red Cross described the situation as "apocalyptic", and Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of engineering a major humanitarian crisis in the city,[59][60] with city officials reporting that about 21,000 civilians have been killed.[61] Ukrainian officials also reported that at least 95% of the city has been destroyed during the fighting, largely by Russian bombardments.[4]

Background

The city of Mariupol is considered a major strategic city and target for Russian forces. Mariupol is the largest city in the Ukrainian-controlled portion of Donetsk Oblast.[b][62] Mariupol is a major industrial hub, home of the Illich and Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, and is the largest city on the Sea of Azov.[63]

Control of its port on the western shore of the Sea of Azov is vital to the economy of Ukraine. For Russia, it would accommodate a land route to Crimea and allowing passage by Russian marine traffic.[64] Capturing the city would give Russia full control over the Sea of Azov.[65]

In May 2014, during the War in Donbas, forces of the separatist and Russian-backed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) attacked the city and forced Ukrainian forces to retreat during the Battle of Mariupol.[66] However, the following month, Ukrainian forces recaptured the city in an offensive. A few months later in September, the DPR attempted to capture it for the second time, and failed. In October, the then-DPR Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko vowed to retake the city.[67] Mariupol was then indiscriminately bombed by rockets in January 2015. Fearing a future third offensive into Mariupol, in February Ukrainian forces launched a surprise attack into Shyrokyne, a village located 11 km east of Mariupol with the objective of expelling the separatists forces from the city limits and creating a buffer zone away from DPR territory.[68][69] Eventually, the separatists withdrew from Shyrokyne four months later.[70] The conflict was frozen when the Minsk II ceasefire agreement was signed in 2015.[71]

One of the most instrumental groups for the recapture and subsequent defenses of Mariupol was the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian volunteer militia, controversial for their openly neo-Nazi and ultranationalist members.[72][73][74] By September 2014 Azov was integrated into the National Guard of Ukraine, and set Mariupol as their headquarters.[75] As one of Vladimir Putin's stated goals for the war is the "denazification" of Ukraine, Mariupol represents an important ideological and symbolical target for the Russian forces, as it hosts the Azov Regiment.[76][77]

Prior to the siege, around 100,000 residents left Mariupol according to the city's deputy mayor.[78]

The city is defended by the Ukrainian Ground Forces, the Ukrainian Naval Infantry, the National Guard of Ukraine (primarily the Azov Regiment[33]), the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine and irregular forces.[39]

Advances to Mariupol

Preliminary shelling and advance on the city

On 24 February, the day the invasion began, Russian artillery bombarded the city, reportedly injuring 26 people.[79][80]

On the morning of 25 February, Russian forces advanced from DPR territory in the east towards Mariupol. They encountered Ukrainian forces near the village of Pavlopil, with Ukrainian forces defeating the Russian advance.[81] Vadym Boychenko, mayor of Mariupol, said that 22 Russian tanks had been destroyed in the skirmish.[82][83]

The Russian Navy, drawing on the capabilities provided by the Black Sea Fleet, reportedly began an amphibious assault on the Sea of Azov coastline 70 kilometres (43 mi) west of Mariupol on the evening of 25 February.[84] A US defense official stated that the Russians may have deployed thousands of marines from this beachhead.[85][86][87]

On 26 February, Russian forces continued to bombard Mariupol with artillery.[88] Later, the government of Greece announced that ten ethnic Greek civilians had been killed by Russian strikes at Mariupol, six in the village of Sartana and four in the village of Buhas.[89][90]

On the morning of 27 February, Boychenko said that a Russian tank column had advanced on Mariupol from the DPR, but this attack was repulsed by Ukrainian forces, with six Russian soldiers captured.[91] Later that day, a 6-year-old girl in Mariupol was killed by Russian shelling.[92] Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of Donetsk Oblast, stated that fighting in Mariupol had continued throughout the night of 27 February.[93]

Throughout 28 February, the city remained under Ukrainian control, despite being surrounded by Russian troops and constantly shelled.[94][95] Electricity, gas, and internet connection to most of the city was cut during the evening.[96] Later, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Russian Major General Andrey Sukhovetsky was killed by a Ukrainian sniper near Mariupol, but other sources[clarification needed] said that he had been killed during the Kyiv offensive.[97][98]

Mariupol surrounded

An apartment building damaged during shelling in Mariupol, 2 March 2022

On 1 March, Denis Pushilin, the head of the DPR, announced that DPR forces had almost completely surrounded the nearby city of Volnovakha and that they would soon do the same to Mariupol.[99] Russian artillery later bombarded Mariupol, causing over 21 injuries.[100]

The city was fully surrounded on 2 March,[1][101] after which the siege intensified.[102] Russian shelling killed a teenager and wounded two other teenagers who were playing soccer outside.[103][104] Boychenko announced the city was suffering from a water outage and had experienced massive casualties. He also said Russian forces were preventing civilians from exiting.[105][106]

Russian bombing of Mariupol,
3 March 2022
Smoke from many buildings amid massive Russian bombing in Mariupol,
3 March 2022

Later on 2 March, Russian artillery targeted a densely populated neighborhood of Mariupol, shelling it for nearly 15 hours. The neighborhood was massively damaged as a result, with deputy mayor Sergiy Orlov reporting that "at least hundreds of people are dead".[107][108]

On the morning of 3 March, the city was shelled again by Russian troops.[109] Eduard Basurin, the spokesman for the DPR militia, formally called on the besieged Ukrainian forces in Mariupol to surrender or face "targeted strikes".[110] Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman Igor Konashenkov reported that DPR forces had tightened the siege, and that three nearby settlements had been captured.[111]

On 4 March, Boychenko stated that the city's supplies were running out, and called for a humanitarian evacuation corridor and Ukrainian military reinforcements.[112][113] He also stated that Russian BM-21 Grads were shelling the city's hospitals and that Mariupol residents no longer had heat, running water, or electricity.[114] Later that day, a temporary ceasefire was proposed for the Mariupol region in order to allow citizens to evacuate.[115]

On 5 March, the Ukrainian government announced its desire to evacuate 200,000 civilians from Mariupol. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that it would act as a guarantor for a new ceasefire to allow for this evacuation.[116] The Red Cross described the situation in Mariupol as "extremely dire".[117] After three days of shelling, a ceasefire was announced to be in effect from 11:00 to 16:00.[118] Civilians began to evacuate from Mariupol along a humanitarian corridor to the city of Zaporizhzhia. As civilians entered the evacuation corridor, Russian forces continued shelling the city, forcing evacuees to turn back.[119]

Ukrainian authorities later reported that Russian forces had failed to observe the ceasefire and continued to shell the city.[120] Russian officials accused Ukrainian forces of not allowing civilians to evacuate towards Russia.[121] The DPR reported that only 17 civilians had been evacuated from Mariupol.[122]

On 6 March, the Red Cross announced that a second attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol had again failed.[123] Anton Herashchenko, a Ukrainian official, said the second attempt at a humanitarian corridor for civilians in Mariupol ended with a Russian bombardment.[123] The Red Cross reported that there were "devastating scenes of human suffering" in Mariupol.[123][124] Later in the morning, Inna Sovsun, a Ukrainian member of parliament, stated that the fuel pipeline that supplies Mariupol was damaged by Russian forces, leaving more than 700,000 people without heat, and suggesting that people may freeze to death, as the temperature at the time often fell below 0 °C (32 °F).[125] The bombardment also hit the city's last functioning cellular tower.[126]

On 7 March, the ICRC Director of Operations stated that humanitarian corridor agreements had only been made in principle, without the precision required for implementation, needing routes, times and whether goods could be brought in to be agreed. The ICRC team had found that one of the proposed corridor roads was mined, and the ICRC was facilitating talks between Russian and Ukrainian forces.[127][128]

On 8 March, another attempt to evacuate civilians was made, but the Ukrainian government accused Russia of violating the ceasefire again by bombing the evacuation corridor.[129]

On 9 March, the Associated Press reported that scores of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers were being buried by city workers in a mass grave at one of the city's cemeteries. Russian shelling had hit the cemetery the previous day, interrupting the burials and damaging a wall.[130][131] Later, another attempted ceasefire failed after Orlov reported that Russian soldiers had opened fire on construction workers and evacuation points. Orlov described the city's supply shortage as so severe that residents were melting snow to get water.[132] Later that day, the Mariupol City Council issued a statement that a Russian airstrike had struck and destroyed a maternity ward and children's hospital.[133][134][135] Ukrainian officials stated that three civilians were killed and at least 17 wounded.[136]

Urban advances

Russian push into the city

Ukraine's military stated on 12 March that Russian forces had captured the eastern outskirts of Mariupol.[137] Later, a vehicle convoy of 82 ethnic Greeks was able to leave the city via a humanitarian corridor.[138][139]

On 13 March, Boychenko stated that Russian forces had bombed the city at least 22 times in the previous 24 hours, with a hundred bombs, and added that the last food and water reserves in the city were being depleted.[140][141] The Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs said that the National Guard of Ukraine had damaged several Russian armored vehicles with artillery strikes during the day.[142] İsmail Hacıoğlu, the head of the local Sultan Suleiman Mosque, stated that 86 Turkish citizens in the city were awaiting evacuation by the Turkish government.[143]

More than 160 cars were able to leave the city on 14 March at 13:00 local time, the first evacuation allowed during the siege. The Russian Ministry of Defense stated that 450 tonnes of humanitarian aid had been brought to the city after Russian forces captured the outskirts.[144] Ukrainian military officials were later said to have killed 150 Russian soldiers and destroyed 10 Russian vehicles.[145]

Refugee civilians in Mariupol,
12 March 2022

On the same day, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, stated that Chechen soldiers were participating in the siege and had briefly entered Mariupol before retreating. Kadyrov also stated that Adam Delimkhanov, a close ally and member of the State Duma, was the commander of Chechen forces in Mariupol.[10] The funeral for Captain Alexey Glushchak of the GRU was held in Tyumen, and it was revealed he died near Mariupol, likely in the early stages of the siege.[146]

On 15 March, around 4,000 vehicles with about 20,000 civilians were able to leave the city.[147]

Ukrainian government official Anton Herashchenko said that Russian Maj. Gen. Oleg Mityaev, commander of the 150th Motorized Rifle Division, was killed when Russian forces tried to storm the city.[11][148] The Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre, sheltering hundreds of civilians, was hit by a Russian airstike on 16 March and destroyed.[149] Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk Oblast, later stated that Russian forces had also targeted the Neptune swimming pool.[150]

On 18 March, DPR forces said they had captured the Mariupol airport from Ukrainian forces.[151] Clashes later reached the city center, according to the mayor[152] and on 19 March, Russian and Ukrainian forces began fighting at the Azovstal steel plant.[153]

Ukrainian soldiers attack a Russian tank in Mariupol.
Russian tank destroyed by Ukrainian troops in Mariupol

The next day, the city council of Mariupol claimed Russian forces had forcefully deported "several thousand" people to camps and remote cities in Russia over the past week.[154][155][26] The same day, Russia denied that this was happening.[26]

Also on 20 March, an art school building, which had sheltered some 400 people, was destroyed in a Russian bombing. No information on casualties was immediately available.[156]

An order by Russia's Ministry of Defence to surrender, lay down arms and evacuate the city was submitted on 20 March, requesting a written response by 02:00 UTC the next day.[157] The ultimatum was rejected by the Ukrainian government and the mayor of Mariupol.[158]

On 21 March, one of the Ukrainian battalion commanders in the city described "bombs falling every 10 minutes".[26]

Shelled apartment building in Mariupol, 23 March 2022

On 23 March, local authorities, including the mayor, left the city due to the deteriorating situation.[159] The following day, Russian forces entered central Mariupol,[160] seizing the Orthodox Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God. The city administration alleged that Russians were trying to demoralize residents by publicly shouting claims of Russian victories, including statements that Odessa had been captured.[161]

Vadym Boychenko said on 27 March that while Mariupol was still under Ukrainian control, Russian forces had entered deep into the city and that the city's population needed a "complete evacuation".[162] By this point, Ukrainian soldiers had run out of food and clean drinking water, and an analyst believed that Ukrainian forces would not be able to fight on beyond a few days. However, Ukrainian officers refused to evacuate from the city, as they did not want to abandon their wounded and dead soldiers and civilians.[163] The "Club 8bit" computer museum was destroyed.[164]

On 28 March, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said "we are in the hands of the occupiers today" in a televised interview,[165] and a spokesman for the Mariupol mayor's office announced that "nearly 5,000 people" had been killed in the city since the start of the siege.[166][167][168][169] The Ukrainian government estimated that "from 20,000 to 30,000" Mariupol residents had been forcibly sent[56] to camps in Russia[57] under Russian military control.[56] During the day, Russian forces seized the administrative building in the northern Kalmiusky district[14] and the military headquarters of the Azov Regiment.[170] In addition, Russian spokesman Igor Konashenkov announced that Russian forces had shot down a Ukrainian Mil Mi-8[171][unreliable source?] that according to him was heading to Mariupol to evacuate the leaders of the Azov Regiment.[172][unreliable source?] The next day, Russian forces were reported to have likely divided Ukrainian troops in the city into two and possibly even three pockets.[173]

On 2 April, Russian forces captured the SBU building in central Mariupol,[174] after which there was no more reported fighting in the area. On 4 April, one Ukrainian battalion surrendered,[51] with Russian officials stating two days later they captured 267 Ukrainian marines from the 503rd Battalion of the Ukrainian Naval Forces.[175] Due to the surrender, the lines between the Ukrainian 36th Separate Marine Brigade and the Azov Regiment had been broken.[51] On 7 April, the DPR announced central Mariupol had been cleared of Ukrainian forces. Meanwhile, Russian troops started an advance from the southwest on 1 April, leaving the Ukrainian military in partial control of the area around the port in the southwest of Mariupol by 7 April.[176] In addition, on 7 April, Russian forces captured a bridge leading to the Azovstal steel plant.[177] The following day, Russian troops seized the southern part of Mariupol's port.[178]

On 10 April, Russian forces captured the fishing port, separating Ukrainian troops in the port from those in the Azovstal steel plant into two pockets, while a possible third pocket was centered on the Illich steel plant to the north.[179] The next day, DPR forces claimed to have captured 80% of Mariupol. Local Ukrainian forces expected the city to fall soon, since they were running out of ammunition, and analysts at the Institute for the Study of War believed that Mariupol would fall within a week.[7][180]

Final pockets of resistance

On 11 April, Russian media reported that 160 Ukrainian servicemen from the 36th Separate Marine Brigade were captured with their equipment.[181]

During the night between 11 and 12 April,[182] Colonel Volodymyr Baranyuk led the 36th Separate Marine Brigade in an attempt to break out of the Russian encirclement at the Illich steel plant to the north. After being spotted they broke into smaller groups,[183] with some of them managing to link up with fighters of the Azov Regiment at the Azovstal plant to the southeast.[184][185] A large number of Ukrainian servicemen were either killed or captured during the breakout.[51] The fate of Colonel Baranyuk initially remained unknown.[183] Later, the DPR claimed that they had identified the body of Baranyuk after their special forces blocked the Ukrainian breakout.[182] However, on 8 May, Colonel Baranyuk appeared alive in an interview with RT, along with the 36th Brigade's Chief of Staff Dimitri Korbyankov. They were reported to have been captured during the breakout attempt.[20]

On 12 April, Aiden Aslin, a British man fighting with the Ukrainian Marines reported that his unit was going to surrender since they had run out of ammunition, food and other supplies.[186] Subsequently, in the evening,[187] Russia stated that 1,026 Marines of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade had surrendered at the Illich steel plant, including 162 officers.[188][189][184] According to Russia, the prisoners included 400 wounded fighters.[187] Later, Russia said it captured an additional 134 Ukrainian servicemen, bringing the total number of prisoners to 1,160.[190] Ukraine confirmed nearly 1,000 Marines had been captured,[51] including wounded and those who remained at the Illich plant.[191] On 13 April, Russian forces secured the Illich plant, reducing the number of pockets in Mariupol to two,[184] while Russia also announced it had taken full control of Mariupol's commercial port,[192] which was confirmed three days later.[193] The commander of the Azov Regiment, Lieutenant colonel Denys Prokopenko, criticized the servicemen that had surrendered, while praising those that managed to link up with his unit.[194] Prokopenko, as well as Ukrainian intelligence officer Illia Samoilenko, also blamed Colonel Baranyuk for the large losses inflicted on Ukrainian forces, stating his actions were uncoordinated. According to Lieutenant colonel Prokopenko, Baranyk's breakout attempt was made without warning to other units and the direction of attack was not previously agreed upon,[51] while Samoilenko called Baranyk a "coward", stating he tried to flee the city, "taking with him people, tanks and ammunition".[195]

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian newspaper cited Ukrainian military expert Oleg Zhdanov who claimed that by this point, the Russian 810th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade originally sent from Feodosia in Crimea had suffered extremely heavy losses during the siege, to the extent of being "destroyed twice."[196]

Resistance in the Azovstal steel plant

Withdrawal to the Azovstal steel plant

The Azovstal steel plant in 2014.

On 15 April, a Ukrainian military commander issued a plea for military reinforcements to come and "break the siege" of Mariupol. He also said that "the situation is critical and the fighting is fierce" but that sending reinforcements and breaking the siege "can be done and it must be done as soon as possible".[197] On the same day, Ukrainian Defence Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzianyk reported Russia started using Tu-22M3 long-range bombers to strike targets in Mariupol.[198] The Azovstal Steel Plant, the heart of one of the remaining pockets of resistance, was well-defended and described as a "fortress within a city", as the steel plant was an enormous complex that made locating the Ukrainian forces difficult and had workshops that were difficult to destroy from the air. Additionally, the complex contained a system of underground tunnels, which would make clearing the entire complex challenging.[199] During the day, Russian forces captured the base of the Ukrainian National Guard's 12th Operational Brigade [ru; uk], in western Mariupol.[200]

On 16 April, DPR troops seized a police station near Mariupol's beach[200] and Russian forces were confirmed to have seized the Vessel Traffic Control Center at the port.[193] Several days after the port was captured, on 20 April, a Ukrainian Marine officer claimed Marine and Azov forces from the Azovstal plant conducted an evacuation operation of around 500 members of the Ukrainian Border Guard and National Police from the port, as they were running out of ammunition. According to the officer, the Ukrainian forces from the Azovstal pocket made an armoured breakthrough to the port and provided covering fire, as the 500 besieged soldiers retreated to the Azovstal plant.[35] Subsequently, Russia announced all urban areas of the city had been cleared, claiming that Ukrainian forces only remained at the Azovstal Steel Plant.[48] However, fighting was reported to be continuing near Flotskaya street in the western Primorsky District.[193]

On 18 April, it was estimated that 95% of the city had been destroyed in the fighting.[4] Ukrainian soldiers ignored a Russian ultimatum to surrender, deciding to fight to the end. Russia threatened to "destroy" those who continued to fight on.[201] A military expert estimated that there could still be 500 to 800 Ukrainian soldiers holding out within the city,[202] while Russian officials estimated that 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers and 400 foreign volunteers were holding out within the Azovstal plant.[201]

Siege of the Azovstal steel plant

On 20 April, Russian and DPR forces made small advances on the outskirts of the Azovstal plant.[203] On 21 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops not to storm the Azovstal steel plant, but to blockade it instead until the Ukrainian forces there ran out of supplies. He also reported that "The completion of combat work to liberate Mariupol is a success", while a Ukrainian official rebutted Putin's comments, saying that Russia's choice of implementing a blockade over storming the steel plant meant that Russia had admitted their inability to physically capture Mariupol.[204][205] General Sir Richard Barrons, former commander of the United Kingdom's Joint Forces Command, assessed that the battle for the plant was no longer "really relevant" in regard to the control of the city and its roads, since Russia and Crimea were now connected. In his opinion, defeating Ukrainian forces at the plant would have been "really difficult" for Russian troops without an "enormous cost to both sides".[206] Despite the ordered blockade, Russian forces advanced within 20 metres (66 ft) of some of the Ukrainian positions.[207]

On 22 April, the western Primorsky District was thought to be cleared by Russian forces, with no more reports of fighting, with all of the remaining Ukrainian forces surrounded in the Azovstal Steel Plant.[58] On 23 April, according to Ukraine, airstrikes and an apparent ground assault recommenced on the Azovstal steel works. An advisor to the Ukrainian President said: "The enemy is trying to strangle the final resistance of the defenders of Mariupol in the Azovstal area".[208] However, this could not be independently confirmed.[209] Ukrainian security chief Oleksiy Danilov claimed that at night, a helicopter had resupplied Azovstal.[210] On the same day, it was reported that Russia was redeploying forces from Mariupol to other fronts in Eastern Ukraine, with Russia reportedly redeploying 12 units from Mariupol.[211] On the next day, Russian forces continued bombing Ukrainian positions in the Azovstal Steel Plant, with reports that Russian forces might have been planning a renewed assault on the facility.[212] During the night of 27 to 28 April, the heaviest airstrikes yet were reportedly conducted against Azovstal, with more than 50 strikes by Tu-22M3, Su-25s and Su-24s aircraft hitting the facility, according to Ukraine. Ukraine claimed a military field hospital was hit, with the number of wounded increasing from 170 before the strike to more than 600 after the bombing.[213][214]

Evacuation of civilians

On 30 April, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross started to run evacuation corridors through an humanitarian corridor.[215][216] This corridor was made after a trip made by Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres to Moscow on the previous week, where he personally brokered a deal for the humanitarian corridor.[216] On 30 April, 20 civilians had left the Azovstal steel plant, while Russian media claimed a number of 25. Talks were underway to try and release the remaining 1,000 or so civilians.[217][218] At least two of the wives of members of the Azov Regiment, called for a concurrent evacuation of the about 2,000 forces that would be left behind after the civilian evacuation, highlighting concerns of treatment as POWs by the Russians and lack of medical and food suplies.[219]

On 2 May, about 100 civilians were reported to have been evacuated.[220] Russian aircraft, according to the US Department of Defense, were using dumb bombs in Mariupol.[221] Russian ground forces were also reported to be pulling out of the city, possibly to reinforce their positions in the Donbas, where Russia was carrying out a large-scale offensive. According to one US DOD official: "Largely the efforts around Mariupol for the Russians are now in the realm of airstrikes".[222] On 3 May, the Russian forces in Mariupol restarted their attacks on Azovstal.[223] They began an assault on the steel plant in what have been called "difficult bloody battles".[224] The following day it was reported the Russians had broken through the plant.[225] Ukrainian politician Davyd Arakhamia said: "Attempts to storm the plant continue for the second day. Russian troops are already on the territory of Azovstal."[226] On 5 May, some 300 civilians were allowed to leave due to Russia opening a humanitarian corridor. These corridors ran from 8am to 6pm.[227] Ukrainian forces blamed Russian success on an electrician who gave Russian forces information about the underground tunnel network, claiming: “Yesterday, the Russians started storming these tunnels, using the information they received from the betrayer.”[228]

Azovstal steel plant being bombed by Russian forces on 5 May. Photo taken by Ukrainian military drone.

On 5 May, The Telegraph reported that Russia had intensified its bombing of the steel factory bunkers by using thermobaric bombs to increase the devastation of deployed firepower against the remaining Ukrainian soldiers who had lost all contact with the Kyiv government; in his last communications, Zelenskyy had authorized the commander of the besieged steel factory to surrender as necessary under the pressure of increased Russian attacks.[229]

On 6 May, some 500 civilians, in total, had been evacuated according to the United Nations. The Azov Regiment reported one fighter killed and six wounded while helping evacuate civilians.[230]

On 7 May, the Ukrainian government announced that all of the remaining women, children and elderly who had been inside the Azovstal steel plant had been evacuated.[231][232][233]

Besieged soldiers

On 8 May, the commander of the 36th marine infantry brigade, Serhiy Volinski, asked "that a higher power find a way to figure out our rescue". As to their current conditions, "It feels like I've landed in a hellish reality show in which us soldiers fight for our lives and the whole world watches this interesting episode. Pain, suffering, hunger, misery, tears, fears, death. It's all real." President Zelenskyy promised "we are working on evacuating our military".[234]

On 9 May, the Donetsk People's Republic held a Victory Day parade in Mariupol. The leader of the Republic, Denis Pushilin participated in the event.[235]

On 10 May, Ukrainian authorities reported that over 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers, hundreds of them wounded, remained trapped inside the Azovstal steelworks.[236][237]

On 16 May, a social media post was released by Azov Regiment commander Denis Prokopenko stating: "In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of the Supreme Military Command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people." This statement follows Russia's decision to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the Azovstal plant and for them to be taken to the DPR-controlled town of Novoazovsk for treatment.[238]

Humanitarian situation and war crimes

A shelled apartment building during around the clock attacks, 3 March 2022

On 6 March, Petro Andryushchenko, advisor to the mayor of Mariupol, reported that people were "drinking from puddles in the streets" due to the loss of running water in the city caused by days of around-the-clock Russian shelling and bombing attacks. He also stated that there was no heat, electricity or telephone service.[239] Civilians had been unable to evacuate the city due to repeated ceasefire violations, attacks on agreed-upon evacuation corridors, and direct attacks on civilians attempting to evacuate.[240]

On 7 March, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Michael Carpenter, described two incidents that occurred in Mariupol on 5 and 6 March as war crimes. He stated that on both dates, Russian forces bombed agreed-upon evacuation corridors while civilians were trying to use them.[240]

On 14 March, another spokesman for the ICRC announced that "hundreds of thousands" of people in the city were "facing extreme or total shortages of basic necessities like food, water and medicine."[241] On 15 March, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk accused Russian forces of taking around 400 civilians hostage after capturing a hospital in the city.[242] Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of firing at an evacuation convoy and injuring five civilians on 16 March.[243] On 18 March, Ukrainian officials stated that more than 350,000 people were sheltering under siege in Mariupol, still with no access to food or water.[244]

On 21 March, CNN reported that an official in Mariupol said that people are afraid, due to the constant bombing and shelling, to leave their underground shelters even to obtain food and water, meaning they were trying to drink less and eat less.[26] On 22 March, CNN reported that the Russian Army had confiscated 11 buses that were headed into the city in order to evacuate citizens.[245] Fox News later reported that at least some of the buses were filled with humanitarian supplies which were taken. It was also reported that 15 aid workers in the buses have been arrested while trying to get food into Mariupol.[246] CNN also reported that to that date, all attempts to bring empty buses into Mariupol to evacuate civilians had failed.[245] On 23 March, Ukrainian President Zelenskeyy announced that 100,000 civilians were still unable to get out of Mariupol and that they were trapped in "inhumane conditions" without food, running water or medicine.[247][245]

On 25 March, Russian General Mikhail Mizintsev was accused by Ukrainian authorities of ordering the bombings of both the Mariupol Children's and Maternity Hospital and the city theatre where 1,200 civilians were sheltering.[248]

Blocking of evacuation attempts

On 1 April, a rescue effort by the UN to transport hundreds of civilian survivors out of Mariupol with 50 allocated buses was thwarted by Russian troops, who refused them safe passage into the city, while peace talks continued in Istanbul.[249] On 4 April, a Russian Navy missile hit a Malta-based Dominica-flagged cargo ship, resulting in the ship catching fire.[250]

Maternity and children's hospital bombing

Consequences of the bombing of the children's hospital and maternity hospital in Mariupol, 9 March 2022

On 9 March, after an airstrike damaged a maternity ward and children's hospital, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that the attack was an "atrocity" along with a video of the building's ruins.[251] The hospital was destroyed.[252] Three people were killed, including a young girl and at least 16 were injured; authorities stated that many more patients and hospital staff were buried under rubble from the blast.[253]

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that the building was formerly a maternity hospital, and Russia bombed it because it was then occupied by the Azov Regiment.[254][255]

Later on the same day, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova rejected the hospital bombing as "information terrorism", while Russian Ministry of Defence spokesman Igor Konashenkov called the bombardment staged.[256]

Then, on the afternoon of 10 March, the Russian Embassy to the UK said in a tweet that two injured pregnant women seen being evacuated after the attack were actually played by actresses wearing "realistic make-up", that the maternity ward was occupied by the Azov Regiment and that no women or children had been present since the facility was "non-operational".[257] The tweet was later removed by Twitter for violating their rules on disinformation.[257] Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for the Russian President, stated soon after the bombing that the Russian government would investigate the incident.

The accusation by Russia then began trending online in Russia, including on Russian Telegram social media, which has hundreds of thousands of followers.[258] Twitter then took down the embassy's posts.[258]

The pregnant woman videotaped being carried out wounded on a stretcher (accused by Russia of being an actress) was moved to another hospital and then died on 13 March, after her child was stillborn. She had suffered numerous injuries in the bombing, including a crushed pelvis and detached hip, which contributed to the stillbirth of her child.[259] Seeing that she had lost her baby, medical workers said that she cried, "Kill me now."[260] Thirty minutes later, she also died.[260]

Russian claims that the videos were faked and that the bombed hospital was being used as a military post were debunked by investigative reporters.[261] On 22 March, Russian journalist Alexander Nevzorov was charged under Russia's "false information" law after he published information about the Russian shelling of a maternity hospital in Mariupol.[262] Under a new law passed on 4 March, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.[263]

Regional theatre bombing

The Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre was bombed on 16 March.

On 16 March, the Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre of the city was struck and largely destroyed by an airstrike.[243] The Mariupol city council accused Russia of targeting the drama theatre, where at least hundreds of civilians had been sheltering.[264] Human Rights Watch stated that the theatre was sheltering at least 500 civilians.[265] Serhiy Taruta, the former governor of Donetsk Oblast, stated that 1,300 were sheltering inside.[266]

A satellite image taken by Maxar Technologies on 14 March showed that the Russian word for "children" was written in large white letters on the pavement in both the front and the back of the theatre, which would make it clear that civilians were sheltering inside.[267] Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba claimed that Russia "could not have not known this was a civilian shelter". According to the Verkhovna Rada,[clarification needed] it was impossible to start rescue operations at the theatre due to the ongoing shelling.[268] The city council also stated that access to the shelter in the theatre was blocked by debris.[269] The Russian Defense Ministry denied attacking the building and accused the Azov Regiment of blowing it up.[270]

The bomb shelter in the basement, where people had been sheltering, however, was able to resist the attack according to Taruta. Survivors began emerging from the remains of the theatre on 17 March.[266] More than 130 civilians had been rescued from the basement as of 18 March, according to Ukrainian officials, and rescuers had yet to find any fatalities. The city council stated that no one had died according to initial information, but one person was gravely wounded.[271]

The Associated Press reported that 600 civilians were killed during the airstrike,[272] double the official number given by the Ukrainian government.

Mass shelling of residential areas

War damage in Mariupol, 12 March 2022
A street of Mariupol during siege of the city in the course of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine

On 2 March, deputy mayor Sergiy Orlov reported that Russian artillery targeted a densely populated neighborhood of Mariupol, shelling it for nearly 15 hours. He said that one populated residential district on the city's left bank had been "nearly totally destroyed".[107]

Satellite photos of Mariupol taken the morning of 9 March taken by Maxar Technologies showed "extensive damage" to high-rise apartments, residential homes, grocery stores and other civilian infrastructure. This was determined by comparing before and after photos.[273] The Mariupol council made a statement that the damage to the city has been "enormous". It estimated that approximately 80% of the city's homes had been significantly damaged, of which almost 30% were beyond repair.[274] Reporting from Mariupol, Reuters reporter Pavel Klimov said that "all around are the blackened shells" of tower block dwellings.[275]

On 16 March, BBC News reported that nearly constant Russian attacks had turned residential neighbourhoods into "a wasteland."[276] On the same day it reported that it had obtained drone footage showing "a vast extent of damage, with fire and smoke billowing out of apartment blocks and blackened streets in ruins."[276] A city resident told the BBC that "in the left bank area, there's no residential building intact, it's all burned to the ground." The left bank contained a densely populated residential district.[107] She also said that the city centre is "unrecognisable."[276] On the same day the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported that Russian forces continued to commit war crimes in Mariupol including "targeting civilian infrastructure."[277]

On 18 March, Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhull, Chief of Defence Intelligence for the United Kingdom (UK), described "continued targeting of civilians in Mariupol".[278] Ukrainian authorities stated that about 90% of buildings in Mariupole were now damaged or destroyed.[244] On the same day, Sky News from the UK described videos as showing "civilian areas left unrecognisable by the bombing."[244] Sky News also quoted the Red Cross as describing "Apocalyptic destruction in Mariupol."[244] On 19 March 2022, a Ukrainian police officer in Mariupol made a video in which he said "Children, elderly people are dying. The city is destroyed and it is wiped off the face of the earth." The video was authenticated by the Associated Press.[279]

The government of Mariupol said on 28 March that 90% of all buildings in Mariupol had been damaged by shelling, with 40% of all structures inside the city destroyed.[280] The statistics released also counted that 90% of Mariupol's hospitals had been damaged, and that 23 schools and 28 kindergartens had been destroyed by Russian shelling.[281]

By 18 April, Ukrainian officials estimated that at least 95% of Mariupol had been destroyed in the fighting, largely as a result of the Russian bombing campaigns.[4]

On 12 April, city officials reported that up to 20,000 civilians had been killed.[61] On the same day, the Mayor of the city reported that about 21,000 civilians had been killed.[55]

Civilian casualties

Bodies being added to a mass grave in Mariupol, March 2022

Mariupol's deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov stated on 9 March that at least 1,170 civilians in the city had been killed in the city since Russia's invasion began and the dead were being buried in mass graves.[282] On 11 March, the city council stated that at least 1,582 civilians had been killed during the siege, increasing that number on 13 March to 2,187 having been killed by the latter date.[283][284] On 14 March, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, stated that more than 2,500 civilians had been killed in Mariupol's siege.[285] However, the city council later clarified that 2,357 civilians had died.[286]

Pyotr Andryushchenko, an adviser to the city government, however stated that the council's count was inaccurate and estimated that total number of civilians killed could be as high as 20,000. The New York Times reported that officials in the city had been struggling to account for how many civilians had died or gone missing during the siege. Videos posted on Telegram showed that residents of the Cheryomushki neighborhood were forced to bury corpses in a courtyard, while others had to turn a post office building into a makeshift morgue, stacking it with dead bodies.[287]

On 16 March, the Associated Press (AP) reported that it had documented that many of the dead were "children and mothers" contrary, it said, to Russian government claims that civilians had not been targeted.[288] It also reported that doctors in Mariupol were saying that they were treating "10 injured civilians for every injured Ukrainian soldier."[288]

On 11 April, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko stated that over 10,000 civilians had died in the Russian siege of Mariupol.[61] On 12 April, city officials reported that up to 20,000 civilians had been killed.[61] On the same day, the Mayor of the city reported that about 21,000 civilians had been killed.[55]

Alleged use of chemical weapons

On 11 April 2022, Eduard Basurin, a spokesperson for Donetsk People's Republic, called for Russia to bring "chemical forces" to "smoke out the moles", referring to the Ukrainian forces in the Azovstal.[289] Later on the same day, the Azov Regiment accused Russian forces of using "a poisonous substance of unknown origin" in Mariupol, causing respiratory problems. A Pentagon spokesperson said the reports were not confirmed, but they reflect concerns about Russia's potential use of chemical agents.[290][291][292] Later, Ukraine stated that it was investigating the allegations. Three Ukrainian soldiers were injured in the incident.[293]

According to experts, it is too soon to say what exactly had happened,[294] UK and Ukrainian officials said that they suspected the use of white phosphorus, which is not typically regarded as a chemical weapon in international law.[291] Basurin was reportedly detained by the Russian secret service FSB, allegedly for revealing plans to use chemical weapons.[295]

Media coverage

Associated Press staff member Mstyslav Chernov and freelancer Evgeniy Maloletka, working for AP, stayed in Mariupol from late February until 11 March. They were among the few journalists, and, according to the AP, the only international journalists in Mariupol during that period, and their photographs were extensively used by Western media to cover the siege and the situation in the city.[296] According to Chernov, on 11 March, they were in a hospital taking photos, when they were evacuated from the city with the assistance of Ukrainian soldiers. They managed to escape from Mariupol unharmed, at which point, he said, no journalists were left in the city.[297]

Testimonies from the Azovstal steel plant were made available via the Starlink satellite connections system.[298]

The propaganda in the state-controlled media in Russia presented the invasion as a liberation mission and accused Ukrainian troops of attacking civilian targets in Mariupol.[299][300]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Later left Mariupol to fight in the Battle of Kyiv.[40][41]
  2. ^ The largest city de jure in Donetsk Oblast is Donetsk, which has been de facto held by the DPR since 2014.

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