The Ukrainian port of Mariupol continues to resist Russia’s military attacks, more than six weeks after Russian forces invaded the country.
The normally busy eastern city on the Sea of Azov is home to 450,000 Ukrainians. Most have fled to escape Russia’s offensive. Mariupol’s Mayor Vadym Boychenko said that an estimated 120,000 Ukrainians remain.
Ukraine’s strong resistance has interfered with Russia’s war plans. It slowed Russian efforts to seize the Donbas region, the center of Ukraine’s industrial activity.
Mariupol has been a major interest of Russia since the start of its invasion on February 24. Capturing the city would permit Russia to establish a land path to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Russia annexed the area in 2014.
Weeks of fierce attacks and resistance
A huge steel production center and other factories were heavily damaged by Russian attacks that flattened much of Mariupol. Thousands have been killed in bombings that also destroyed homes, hospitals and other public buildings.
The dead include about 300 people who had been sheltered at the Mariupol Drama Theater. Russia bombed the building, even though its roof had the Russian word for “CHILDREN” painted in huge white letters.
Boychenko told The Associated Press that at least 21,000 people were killed in Mariupol. He said bodies are all over the streets. He accused Russia of burning many more bodies to hide evidence.
Boychenko said that several Ukrainian groups are still fighting the Russians in Mariupol. They include the 36th Marine Brigade, the Azov Regiment, some Interior Ministry troops and border guards.
The Azov Regiment is an experienced volunteer force that is widely considered one of the country’s strongest. It is defending the Azovstal steel factory property, an area of almost 11 square kilometers.
The 36th Marine Brigade was holding defensive positions at two other factories but used all its supplies and ammunition. The Ukrainian fighters tried to break through Russia’s lines.
Boychenko said that some of the soldiers joined the Azov force and some were captured by the Russians. He did not provide more details.
Concern about possible chemical attacks
The Russian military said Thursday that a total of 1,160 Ukrainian troops surrendered this week. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Fear is growing in Mariupol that Russia might use chemical weapons to crush resistance at the Azovstal plant and other areas of the city.
Eduard Basurin is a Russia-allied separatist official in eastern Ukraine. He appeared to call for that Monday. On Russian state television, he said Russian-backed forces should block all the exits out of the factory and "use chemical troops to smoke them out of there.”
He later said that no chemical weapons were used.
The Azov Regiment reported Monday that a drone had dropped a poisonous substance on its positions, but did not cause any serious injuries. A Ukrainian defense official said the attack possibly involved the chemical phosphorus.
Ukrainian officials have said that the Russian military has blocked humanitarian aid from reaching Mariupol, leaving the city without food, water and power. The Russian troops have also turned back buses sent to transport civilians to safety. About 150,000 have been able to flee the city in their own vehicles.
Boychenko said that at least 33,500, and, possibly, up to 50,000 Mariupol residents have been taken to “filtration camps” in the separatist-controlled east. He said Russia then sends the captured to distant, poor areas of Russia.
Mayor says Russia is spreading propaganda in the city
Mariupol has seen communications cut since the start of the attack. Russia has launched its own radio broadcasts in the city, spreading propaganda, Boychenko said.
The broadcasts are, in his words, “telling people that Kyiv and other cities have been captured and they have been abandoned.”
The fighting in Mariupol has forced the Russian military to keep a lot of troops in the city. That is delaying the start of its planned new offensive in eastern Ukraine.
“As long as the street fighting is going on, Russia can't remove troops from Mariupol and deploy them to other areas, including Donbas,” Oleh Zhdanov, an independent military expert, told the AP.
He said, “Mariupol remains a major symbol of the Ukrainian resistance."
I'm Ashley Thompson.
Caty Weaver adapted this story for VOA Learning English from a report by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
region –n. a part of a country, of the world, that is different or separate from other parts in some way
annex –v. to add (an area or region) to a country, state; to take control of (a territory or place)
drone –n. a kind of small aircraft that flies without a pilot
filtration –n. the process of removing something unwanted from a liquid, such as water, or gas using a device called a filter
abandoned –adj. left without needed protection or care; given up
symbol –n. something that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.