Mariupol, a strategic port in southeastern Ukraine, has been bombarded and besieged since the beginning of March. While the Ukrainian resistance has entrenched itself in the city’s underground passages, the Russian army is claiming the first surrenders.
After more than a month of siege, the fighting is now concentrated in the gigantic industrial zone of the city. The Ukrainian troops who are still resisting the Russian assault are hidden in the Azovstal metallurgical complex, whose kilometers of underground form a veritable labyrinth.
This Wednesday, April 13, the Russian Defense Ministry said that 1,026 Ukrainian soldiers “voluntarily laid down their arms and surrendered” to Russian forces, in the area of the Ilitch metallurgical plant, a little further north.
“The city should fall quickly”, indicates the military expert and former colonel Michel Goya, in his point position daily.
Subjected to an intensive bombardment, Mariupol is destroyed at 90%, affirms the mayor of the city. Taking Mariupol would be an important victory for the Russians as it would allow them to consolidate their territorial gains along the Sea of Azov by linking the Donbass region, partly controlled by their supporters, to Crimea which Moscow annexed in 2014.
Deprived of water, food and medicine for several weeks, the inhabitants of Mariupol gradually evacuated the city, after several unsuccessful attempts to establish a humanitarian truce. About 100,000 people are still believed to be stranded there.
Regional authorities put the death toll in Mariupol at at least 20,000. The Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region clarified that the balance sheet was complicated to establish because of the blockade enclosing the city.
Accusations of using chemical weapons
US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken has reported “credible information” about the possibility that Russia will use “chemical agents” in its offensive to take Mariupol. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) expressed concern. For its part, the United Kingdom announced that it was trying to “verify” this information.
“Three people show clear signs of poisoning by chemical warfare products but without catastrophic consequences,” nationalist Andriï Biletsky, founder of the Azov battalion which fights in Mariupol, declared on Telegram on Monday.
These suspicions echo the remarks of the representative of the separatist army in Donetsk, Eduard Basurin. Quoted on Monday by the Russian agency Ria Novosti, he said that the soldiers besieging Mariupol could resort to “chemical troops who will find a way to get the moles out of their hole”, in reference to the Ukrainian soldiers entrenched in the undergrounds of the city.