the russian president Vladimir Putin celebrated on Thursday the “success” of his troops in taking the port city of Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine, and ruled out a final assault on the industrial zone where the last resistance was entrenched.
After enduring almost two months of siege and bombardment, the last Ukrainian troops are hidden in the huge Azovstal steelworks in this city on the Sea of Azov, strategic in Moscow’s plan to unite the pro-Russian territories of Donbas and the Crimean peninsula. already annexed in 2014.
The ultimatums launched by Russia have not led to the surrender of these soldiers. One of its commanders, Sviatoslav Palamar of the Azov battalion, asked Western countries for security “guarantees” to leave the compound where, according to kyiv, there are also about a thousand civilians.
In this context, “I consider that the proposed assault on the industrial zone is not appropriate. I order to cancel it,” Putin said in a meeting with his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, broadcast on television.
You have to think (…) about the lives of our soldiers and officers, you don’t have to go into those catacombs and crawl underground,” he continued. “Block the entire area so that not even a fly passes.” ordered.
Minister Shoigu indicated that some 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers are resisting in that complex, without mentioning the number of civilians.
Evacuations in Mariupol
Almost since the beginning of the conflict, Mariupol has been one of the places where the Russian offensive has been concentrated. Local authorities fear the death of more than 20,000 people in the town, due to the bombing, but also due to the lack of water, food and electricity.
The Russian army has controlled much of the city for days and even allowed the entry of some Western journalists who were able to see its devastated streets.
During the siege, civilian evacuations were rare and often dangerous. Even so, on Thursday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said that four buses with civilians were able to leave the city and others are expected to leave during the day.
Ahead of them is a 200 km journey to Zaporizhia, punctuated by numerous checkpoints in the middle of a region immersed in fighting.
Since the end of March, when Russia withdrew its troops from the north and around kyiv, eastern and southern Ukraine have become the main theater of the war.
Russian forces “maintain their artillery fire on the entire front line,” Ukrainian authorities said Thursday morning.
The fighting is particularly intense around Izium (northeast), there is “incessant shelling” in Popasna and Rubizhne in the Lugansk region (east) and new attacks in Mikolaiv (south), on the road to Odessa, which have left a dead and two wounded, Governor Vitali Kim said.
The situation is getting complicated from hour to hour,” Lugansk Governor Sergei Gaidai wrote on Telegram. “Get to safety (…) Get out!” he warned.
“1,200 civilian bodies”
Local authorities have called on the civilian population to leave the front area, especially after the discovery of dozens of bodies in several towns near kyiv occupied until the end of March by the Russians.
Since then, “1,200 civilian bodies, only civilians,” have arrived at morgues in the kyiv region, Olga Stefanishyna, Ukrainian deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, told AFP from Borodianka.
In that city, 54 km from the capital, the police reported the discovery of nine bodies of civilians buried in two graves.
These people were killed by the (Russian) occupiers and some of the victims show signs of torture,” said local police chief Andrii Nebytov.
In Borodianka, as in Bucha, whose streets were strewn with corpses, some with their hands tied behind their backs, kyiv denounces “war crimes” by Russia, which rejects this accusation.
a long war
The battle for Donbas, the eastern mining area where kyiv has been fighting pro-Russian separatists since 2014, and part of the south of the country is expected to be long.
The capture of Mariupol and the establishment of a corridor under Russian control to the Crimean peninsula may allow Moscow to strengthen its positions on the line further north, near Kharkov, the second largest Ukrainian city.
At the same time, Ukrainian resistance seems fierce, especially with the substantial increase in military aid from the United States and several of its Western allies.
After much hesitation, Israel indicated on Wednesday that it agreed to send protective equipment to Ukraine for the first time. And on Thursday, the German government assured that kyiv would soon receive “battle and armored cars” from Eastern European countries.
In a warning to mariners, Moscow on Wednesday tested a ballistic missile “that those who intend to threaten our country should think twice.”
Still, the parade of Western leaders continues in kyiv.
If the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, traveled on Wednesday, promising that the European Union will do everything possible to “ensure that Ukraine wins the war”, on Thursday the President of the Spanish Government Pedro Sánchez and the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen attended. .
Moved to see in the streets of Borodianka the horror and atrocities of Putin’s war,” the Spanish head of government wrote on Twitter, along with an image of a ruined part of the city, which he was able to visit. “We will not leave alone to the Ukrainian people,” he added.
Some Western diplomats fear, however, that the lengthening of the war will weaken the unity of action in the measures against Russia.
If the war is concentrated in Donbas, far from kyiv and the NATO borders, the West’s sense of urgency and unity may ultimately diminish. “It’s a challenge,” a diplomat told AFP.