Ukraine’s embattled government is bracing for a possible full-scale Russian assault on Mariupol, the key southern port city that has been under siege for the past six weeks. Moscow appears to be massing its forces for an all-out offensive on the city, which would give it control of a strategic corridor connecting its two main fronts in the south and east. This would be a crippling blow to Kyiv’s efforts to hold off the Russian-backed separatists, who have made significant gains in recent weeks. The Ukrainian military says it is running out of ammunition and has been pushed back into two isolated pockets adjoining the coastline. If Mariupol falls, it would deal a devastating blow to Ukraine’s already struggling economy and could lead to further Western sanctions against Russia.
Since early March, Russian forces have been besieging the city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine. The siege has killed thousands of civilians and sparked a horrific struggle for survival for those who remain trapped in the city. Thousands of people have fled north to escape the fighting, risking a deadly journey through the front line. Here in Zaporizhzhia, I have watched as civilians arrive day after day, recounting their eyewitness accounts of the destruction of their city. In recent days, Russian forces are believed to have pushed further into Mariupol by dividing the remaining defenders into two groups and forcing them back to the port area and Azovstal plant, a massive iron, and steelworks where they had been launching counter-attacks for weeks.
The heroic resistance of the Ukrainian forces in Mariupol against overwhelming Russian aggression is a shining example of the courage and determination of the Ukrainian people. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, the Ukrainians have fought bravely for weeks, refusing to give up even an inch of their land. The Russians have bombarded Mariupol with artillery and rockets from both land and sea, but the Ukrainians have held firm. The city has been completely surrounded by Russian troops, cut off from all supplies of food, water, or ammunition. But still, the Ukrainians fight on. In a post on their Facebook page, the 36th marine brigade described the situation as “the last battle… It is death for some of us, and captivity for the rest,” but vowed they would never surrender. And indeed they have not – even when faced with certain death.