Rockets, Rubble, and a Refusal to Surrender: The Battle for Mariupol Nears a Conclusion

Nearing 60 days into the invasion of Ukraine, Russian victory in Mariupol was all but declared during a rather orchestrated meeting between President Putin and his minister of defence Sergei Shoigu on April 21st.

Though, at the time of this article’s writing, resistance continues.

The coastal city in the Southeast of Ukraine has been the scene of a desperate struggle against Russian forces. Amidst the rubble of a brutal Russian bombing campaign, estimated by the city’s mayor to have killed over 10,000 civilians, continuing stubborn resistance from Ukraine’s military has proven a thorn in the invaders side.

The stakes of controlling the city are all too apparent to both sides. Russian control means the invader connecting Crimea, annexed in 2014, to the eastern breakaway regions of the Donbas and Luhansk.

For months the Russian offensive had faltered in the city, a defence including the controversial Azov battalion standing in their way. Now, the remaining resistance have been pushed back to Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks complex.

Covering 4.25 square miles, it is believed that 2,000 Ukrainian troops and 1,000 civilians are holed up at the industrial site. Surrounded from all sides, they have faced heavy shelling. Though a Russian window for surrender on April 20th was still refused.

Presented with a difficult assault of the site’s intricate network of tunnels by his defence minister, Putin promptly discarded this option as ‘impractical’. Instead, he has called for a blockade, “so that a fly can’t get through”.

Despite refusing to surrender, a commander in the complex, Serhiy Volyna of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, had requested the extraction of soldiers and civilians to a ‘third party state’. Yet, the implications of a third-party involvement are too high for many.

Two weeks ago Russia conducted the first test launch of its new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system. Capable of carrying over 10 nuclear warheads and of striking as far as the US, the test served as a reminder of what escalation could bring.

On Russian state TV, head of the Roscomos space agency, Dmitry Rogozin claimed the “super-weapon” would guarantee the security of Russia’s children and grandchildren for the next 30-40 years. For Ukraine’s children and grandchildren, western intervention is kept cautiously at bay.

The ICBM system, Putin has warned, would “make those who in the heat of frantic aggressive rhetoric try to threaten our country, think twice”.

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Hamish Davis

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May 2022
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