Ukrainians plead for saving Mariupol as Russian advance creeps

Ukrainian forces fought village after village on Saturday to stem a Russian advance through the east of the country while the United Nations worked to broker a civilian evacuation from the last Ukrainian stronghold in the bombed-out ruins of the port city of Mariupol.

An estimated 100,000 civilians remain in the city, and up to 1,000 live under a sprawling Soviet-era steel mill, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukraine hasn’t said how many fighters are also at the facility, the only part of Mariupol not occupied by Russian forces, but the Russians put the number at around 2,000.

Russian state news agencies reported on Saturday that 25 civilians had been evacuated from the Azovstal Steelworks, although there was no confirmation from the UN or Ukrainian officials. Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said 19 adults and six children were taken from the factory but gave no further details.

Videos and images from inside the facility, provided to The Associated Press by two Ukrainian women who said their husbands were among the fighters who refused to surrender there, showed unidentified wounded men with stained bandages, that would have to be changed; others had open wounds or amputated limbs.

At least 600 wounded were treated by a medical skeleton staff, said the women, who identified their husbands as members of the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard. Some of the wounds were rotted from gangrene, they said.

In the video the women shared, the wounded men tell the camera they eat once a day and share just 1.5 liters of water a day with four. Supplies at the surrounded facility were exhausted, they said.

The AP has not been able to independently verify the date and location of the footage, which the women said was taken in the corridors beneath the steel mill last week.

A shirtless man spoke with evident pain as he described his wounds: two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a dislocated arm that “hung on the flesh.”

“I want to tell everyone who sees this. If you don’t stop this here in Ukraine, it will continue to Europe,” he said.

It comes as an increasingly impatient Russian military establishment is urging Putin to declare an “all-out war.”

When Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine in late February, Vladimir Putin called it a “special operation” and banned the Russian media from using the word “war,” thinking it would all be over in a few weeks.

More than two months later, the offensive has stalled.

“The military is outraged that the attack on Kyiv failed,” said Irina Borogan, a Russian journalist and author with ties to the security services.

“The people in the army seek revenge for past failures and want to go further in Ukraine.”


An aerial view shows the demolition of houses in the town of Irpin outside of Kyiv. Photo: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

And it seems their calls are being heard. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said yesterday that Putin was likely to announce a general mobilization of the Russian people within weeks to make up for military losses.

“He will probably explain … that we are now at war with the Nazis of the world and that we must mobilize the Russian people en masse,” Mr Wallace said.

The defense minister added that the announcement could come on May 9, when Russia celebrates the Soviet Army’s victory over Nazi Germany.

It comes as Russian troops on Saturday bombed Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region but failed to capture three target areas, Ukraine’s military said, while Moscow said Western sanctions on Russia and arms sales to Ukraine were hampering peace talks.

The Russians tried to seize the Lyman oblasts in Donetsk and Sievierodonetsk and Popasna in Luhansk, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a daily update. “No success – the fighting continues,” it said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a remark released early Saturday the lifting of Western sanctions on Russia is part of peace talks, which he says are difficult but are continuing daily via video link.

Meanwhile, General Valery Gerasimov, the head of the Russian army, has reportedly been deployed to eastern Ukraine in a highly unusual move that observers said could herald an escalation in the conflict.

The Kremlin has lavished funds and praise on the armed forces in recent years, rattling its saber at every opportunity — in part to make up for humiliating military campaigns of recent decades, including in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The reinforced forces now appear frustrated by Putin’s slimmed-down offensive in eastern Ukraine.

Igor Girkin, a retired military intelligence officer better known for his leadership of separatist forces in eastern Ukraine before being recalled to Moscow in 2014, has provided insight into the thinking of ordinary Russian officers over the years.

Mr Girkin, known for his rabid anti-Ukraine views, has taken a stab at the Kremlin online for being too soft on Ukraine.

After rolling out a list of Moscow’s failings – from the sinking of its Black Sea Fleet flagship to “acts of sabotage” against infrastructure inside Russia – he asked, “What else has to happen before the midgets in the Kremlin realize they’re in for a total.” , hard war and begin to act accordingly?”

Alexander Arutyunov, a retired Russian commando and typically one of the country’s most popular pro-Kremlin bloggers, has turned into another voice of discontent. “Vladimir Vladimirovich, can you please make up your mind: do we fight or do we play around?” he asked in an emotional video. He questioned why Russia has not yet turned Ukraine’s airfields into “lunar craters.”

A total war declaration on Ukraine would entail two things that the Kremlin has so far tried to avoid: martial law and mass mobilization.

Mobilization would mean that Russia would have to call up reservists and retain conscripts beyond their year-long tenure, a politically difficult decision.

Martial law would close the country’s borders and nationalize much of the economy, which is hanging by a thread.

Eager to maintain some semblance of normality in Russia amid crippling Western sanctions, Putin ordered his cabinet to provide financial aid to families and businesses.

Liberal economists in the Kremlin’s service have so far prevented Russia’s once-buoyant market economy from being forced into war mode, including fending off attempts to nationalize Western companies.

But one of Putin’s closest advisers, in a rare public intervention this week, advocated bringing the economy to a halt. Nikolai Patrushev, chairman of the Russian Security Council, criticized the “fascination of entrepreneurs for market mechanisms” and called for a self-sufficient economy.

Russia is also a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes several other former Soviet states. As with NATO, its charter states that aggression against one member should be perceived as aggression against the bloc as a whole – and there could be a concerted military response if Putin said Ukraine or the West would attack Russia.

When violent unrest broke out in Kazakhstan in January of this year, the CSTO declared its readiness to send a joint peacekeeping mission there. Other members have armed forces nowhere near as large as Moscow.

Separately, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister said General Gerasimov had arrived in eastern Ukraine.

The new order is a surprising move that could indicate President Putin’s increasing isolation, said former Major General Rupert Jones, who was commander of all operations on British territory.

“This smacks of further desperation,” he said, adding that the appointment could be a “precursor” to President Putin’s May 9 call for a declaration of war.

But at the critical moment, “Mr. Putin doesn’t feel that he needs the advice of his strategic commander in Moscow.”

There’s something quite interesting about this dynamic that amplifies it [the idea of] Putin’s isolation.”

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Ukrainians plead for saving Mariupol as Russian advance creeps

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