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Russia On the Cusp of Total Control in Mariupol

Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: April 18, 2022
Russia is on the cusp of winning the key strategic port hub of Mariupol and is expected to soon head East to the Donbass.
A Russian soldier climbs stairs at the Mariupol drama theatre on April 12, 2022 in Mariupol. As Russia is finally on the cusp of total control of the key port city of Mariupol, the Pentagon is concerned victory will free up thousands of troops to head East to siege the Donbass. (Image: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images)

After almost two full months of intense combat, all that remains of Ukraine’s defenses in the critical strategic port city of Mariupol is a small battalion holed up inside the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, named for its proximity to the Sea of Azov. 

Russia had victory in sight as early as April 13 when the UK’s Express noted that the Russian Ministry of Defense announced more than 1,000 members of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade had voluntarily surrendered, including 162 ranking officers.

The outlet conceded that although the report was based on a statement from Russia, “Reports of a mass surrender by Ukrainian forces has not been contradicted.” 

The MOD’s announcement appears to have been corroborated by open source intelligence Telegram channels citing video of massive amounts of surrendering Ukraine soldiers published through Russian and Ukrainian language sources.

A dire situation

Express said that the 36th Brigade’s Facebook account had posted an ominous warning on April 11, “For more than a month, the Marines fought without refilling ammunition, without food, without water, almost a lacquer from the puddle and died in packs.”

April 10 reporting by The Guardian elaborated on the 36th’s Facebook post, painting a more dire picture that described a “mountain of wounded” amounting to more than half of its forces. 

It added that soldiers “whose limbs are not torn off” continue to fight.

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Express stated that in response to the news, Zelensky used the opportunity to ask for yet more donations from the international community on Twitter, “Without additional weaponry, this war will become an endless bloodbath, spreading misery, suffering and destruction.”

The Facebook post comes on the back of a video released to the English Twitterverse on April 10, allegedly by the Deputy Commander of the notorious Azov Neo Nazi Batalion from within the bowels of the Azovstal plant, stating that he and other soldiers felt betrayed by promises from Kiev that if they could sacrifice themselves and hold Russian forces in Mariupol with an ardent defense, reinforcements would be sent for a rescue and extraction mission.

The Guardian’s article corroborated the story, paraphrasing the Brigade’s Facebook post as also criticizing the Zelensky Administration when it lamented that “repeated promises to relieve the crushing Russian blockade of the city, or to evacuate some of their wounded by helicopter, came to nothing.”

Death wish

On April 14, however, Daily Mail reported that the Commander of the 36th Brigade Serhii Volyna, had published a video alongside Azov Commander Denys Prokopenko, criticizing those who surrendered, while vowing to fight to the death.

Prokopenko called the members of the 36th Brigade who refused to surrender, “Real men who have chosen the path of war,” adding, “Don’t make heroes out of deserters and men who surrendered. They chose the path of shame. In no way should these people be heroised.”

While fighting at the Azovstal plant has continued unabated, what remains of Ukraine’s defenses make a helpless last stand.

April 18 reporting by Time stated that an offer of surrender on behalf of the Russian Federation with a midday expiration date had been rejected.

However, both Time’s article and others do not quote any combat participants in the decision to fight to the death. Instead, comments made by Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal during an ABC segment stating, “We will fight absolutely to the end, to the win, in this war,” and adding, “but we do not have intention to surrender,” were cited as the source of the decision.

The same day, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters that Russian forces “are shaping and setting the conditions for future offensive operations,” notably in the Eastern Donbass region that borders Russia and has been home to continual armed conflict between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separtist militia since at least 2014.

Kirby was anxious that once Russia is able to completely sweep out the Azovstal plant, it will free up 12 battalion tactical groups, amounting to approximately 12,000 soldiers and their accompanying hardware, according to ABC.

Drone footage published of what remains of Mariupol shows a scene of a city, once a thriving metropolis home to almost 450,000 people, reduced to ruins as blocks upon blocks of multistory residential and commercial buildings have been smashed to rubble. 

Time estimated that as many as 100,000 citizens remain, mostly amid a severe humanitarian crisis. 

Russia, likewise, has taken significant losses in the battle for the city.

An April 17 AP wire release stated that St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov had commemorated the death and burial of Russian Federation Major General Vladimir Frolov, deputy commander of the 8th Army, but “without saying where or when he was killed.”

The article stated “Russian media identified” the 8th Army “as being among the forces battering Mariupol for weeks.”

“Photographs on Russian news websites showed his grave at a St. Petersburg cemetery piled high with red and white flowers,” said the wire.