The success of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine depends on Moscow’s ability to capture the strategic port city of Mariupol, which has been surrounded for weeks by Russian forces, the regional governor told AFP Friday.
“The enemy’s offensive operation in the south hinges on Mariupol. The enemy is trying to focus all its efforts on it,” Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
Ukraine says hundreds of its forces and civilians are holed up inside the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and Kyiv has repeatedly called for a ceasefire to allow women, children and the elderly to safely exit the destroyed city.
Kyrylenko said that “Azovstal is holding on” and Ukrainian forces remaining in the city “still have some ammunition” but are “exhausted after two months of fighting.”
Ukraine officials in recent days have called for urgent humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee and accused Russian forces of continued attacks making evacuations impossible.
“In no way has the Russian side ever fulfilled the agreements on the work of humanitarian corridors,” Kyrylenko told AFP.
He said that Russian forces had become increasingly frustrated that the city was holding out, and accused Moscow’s army of resorting to sowing “panic” among the remaining population.
“How? Blockade, famine, constant bombing, airstrikes, missile strikes, heavy artillery and tanks, which destroyed most of the houses in Mariupol.”
The Kremlin this week claimed the “liberation” of Mariupol, whose control is pivotal to its war plans, nearly two months after President Vladimir Putin ordered the shock invasion of Russia’s Western-leaning neighbor.