The city’s been bombed to rubble, up to 20,000 of its residents are dead, and there’s been no prospect of resupply or reinforcements since the Russians laid siege to it six weeks ago. And yet the Ukrainians inside are prepared to fight on to defend what’s left, knowing that Russia needs Mariupol in order to establish a corridor between the Donbas and Crimea.
Ukraine is a poor country but it doesn’t want for patriots.
Still, even the most determined force can go only so long without food, water, and ammo. It’s hard to know what’s happening inside the city but the sense lately is that there are only a few pockets of Ukrainian resistance left to clear before Russia fully controls it. The Ukrainians who are left are vowing to battle to the end:
🇺🇦marines of the 36th brigade shared a farewell video from Mariupol, saying they are devoted to Ukraine till the end. However, no ammunition was delivered to them in the besieged city. They ask to finish the job and fight for victory. pic.twitter.com/5AsXoPeQIJ
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) April 12, 2022
A Facebook account attributed to marines stationed in Mariupol posted this message last night:
“From the beginning… we have been defending Mariupol for 47 days,” the Marines wrote. “We were bombed from airplanes, we were shot from artillery, tanks and other fire materials. We kept the defense worthy by doing the impossible. But any resources have a potential to run out.”…
“For more than a month, the Marines fought without refilling ammunition, without food, without water… [but now] the mountain of wounded makes up almost half of the crew,” it continued. “Those who have unbroken limbs and can walk, return in order.”
The Marines also say their unit is “dying but fighting” and “gradually we are coming to an end.”
“Further is death for some, but captivity for some,” it said. “I don’t know what’s next, but I really ask you to remember the Marines with a kind word and no matter how they develop further, do not talk badly about the Marines.”
Some volunteers there have already reportedly surrendered to the Russians. The rest seem intent on turning it into the Ukrainian Alamo. Reliable information on the state of the battlefield in Mariupol is so sparse that the Institute for the Study of War is forced to rely on Russian sources for its update but here’s their best guess at the situation: “Russian media outlet RT shared unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) footage on April 11 confirming that Russian forces have bisected Ukrainian defenders between the Azovstal Plant in eastern Mariupol and a second group of Ukrainian forces in the Port of Mariupol in the southwest, which ISW previously reported on April 10. DNR head Denis Pushilin claimed that Russian forces have cleared 80% of Mariupol (which ISW cannot independently confirm) and falsely claimed they fully control the Port of Mariupol as of April 11, directly contradicting the RT claim and ISW‘s assessment that Ukrainian forces retain control of the port.”
Yesterday, in an address to South Korea’s parliament, Zelensky accused the Russians of having “completely destroyed Mariupol and burned it to ashes.” He’s scarcely exaggerating:
The search for victims of Russia’s siege continued in Mariupol on Monday with emergency workers sifting through the rubble of destroyed buildings.
— Bloomberg TV (@BloombergTV) April 12, 2022
We were warned after Russia failed to quickly take Kiev that they would soon shift to a “Grozny strategy” in which they would try to bomb, shell, and otherwise terrorize the Ukrainians into submission. It hasn’t worked but that clearly does seem to have been the plan in Mariupol. The city’s mayor made a sensational allegation yesterday, that following the horrendous revelations of atrocities in Bucha Russia is now going to greater lengths in Mariupol to hide the evidence of its crimes. “Mobile crematoriums have arrived in the form of trucks,” he told the AP. “You open it, and there is a pipe inside and these bodies are burned.” If that’s true and not propaganda, I wonder if it’s exclusively Ukrainians whose remains are being incinerated. Putin would probably rather destroy the evidence of dead Russian troops too and list those soldiers officially as MIA or POW than have to return thousands of bodies to Russian parents and risk a reaction.
The most sensational claim out of Mariupol lately was Ukrainian troops claiming yesterday that some sort of chemical weapon may have been used on them. Zelensky’s government and various western intelligence services have looked into it but no one can corroborate it due to Mariupol’s isolation. Some experts are skeptical that the symptoms described would have been caused by nerve agents. The fact that video evidence hasn’t been uploaded is also suspicious. Tony Blinken suggested this afternoon that the Russians might be using familiar chemicals souped up with additives:
Secretary Blinken: “We had credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas, mixed with chemical agents that would cause stronger symptoms…This is a real concern…” https://t.co/coHneNweCw
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 12, 2022
British experts are wondering if the chemical used in Mariupol might have been phosphorus munitions, which create smoke that can cause inflammation or respiratory damage if inhaled in enclosed spaces but which isn’t illegal under international law. Whatever the truth, assuming Mariupol falls soon, Russia’s going to hide the evidence of it either way.