Ukraine war: Mariupol fighters holding out after Putin orders blockade of Azovstal steel plant

Russia reluctant to storm Ukrainian stronghold over fears of ‘significant casualties’, say western analysts

Smoke rises from airstrike on Mariupol steel plant where 1,000 people reportedly sheltering

Ukrainian soldiers are still holding out at their last foothold in Mariupol, despite Vladimir Putin claiming victory and saying that Russia had “liberated” the city.

After two months of intense fighting in the besieged city, Ukrainian troops remain holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in the southeast of the port. Roughly 1,000 civilians are also thought to be there, seeking sanctuary in its underground network of tunnels.

In a televised meeting on Thursday, the Russian president told his defence minister Sergei Shoigu to blockade the plant rather than storm it.

"Block off this industrial area so that a fly cannot not pass through," Mr Putin said, while praising Mr Shoigu for what he referred to as a successful operation to “liberate” the city.

"There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities," he said.

However, Ukrainians on the ground have dismissed Mr Putin’s declaration of victory, with one soldier telling the BBC “that as long as we are here, Mariupol remains under control of Ukraine”.

The US State Department on Thursday said Mr Putin’s claim to have liberated the city was “yet more disinformation from (a) well-worn playbook”.

Western officials have attributed the Russian leader’s decision to blockade the steel plant to a desire to free up Russian troops for fighting elsewhere in eastern Ukraine.

“A full ground assault by Russia on the plant would likely incur significant Russian casualties, further decreasing their overall combat effectiveness,” the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in its latest military intelligence update.

This view is shared by the retired British Rear Admiral Chris Parry, who said Moscow was turning its attention to the wider battle for the Donbas, in an attempt “to try and capture territory and also to encircle the Ukrainian forces and declare a huge victory”.

"The Russian agenda now is not to capture these really difficult places where the Ukrainians can hold out in the urban centres,” he explained.

People fleeing the besieged city of Mariupol arrive in Zaporizhzhia on 21 April, 2022

Despite Russian gains in the east of his country, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has said Moscow’s progress will only be temporary.

In his daily video message to the nation, Ukraine’s leader said “the occupiers continue to do everything to have a reason to talk about at least some victories”.

“None of these steps will help Russia in the war against our state. They can only delay the inevitable - the time when the invaders will have to leave our territory. In particular Mariupol - a city that continues to resist Russia, despite everything the occupiers say,” he added.

The Ukrainian president’s words came as new satellite imagery revealed what appeared to be hundreds of mass graves near Mariupol.

Vadym Boychenko, the mayor of Mariupol, accused Russia of “hiding their military crimes” in his city by reportedly burying up to 9,000 Ukrainian civilians in the town of Manhush.

Mr Boychenko called Russian atrocities in Mariupol "the new Babi Yar," a reference to the massacre of almost 34,000 Ukrainian Jews by the Nazis in 1941.

"The bodies of the dead were being brought by the truckload and actually simply being dumped in mounds," one of his aides said.

Maxar Technologies published photographs from Manhush, saying its analysis of satellite imagery suggested the graves had been dug in late March and had recently been extended.

Although Russia has not commented on the latest allegations from Mariupol, it denies targeting civilians, despite evidence to the contrary in places such as Bucha.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in