Ukraine prepares for the fall of Mariupol and a Russian assault in the east

KRAMATORSK | An end to resistance in Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine, seemed imminent on Monday, with Ukrainian forces announcing they were preparing for the fall of this strategic port while pro-Russian separatists claimed to have conquered the port area.

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Kyiv has also announced that it expects a major offensive in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine shortly. “According to our information, the enemy has almost completed its preparation for an attack on the east. The attack will take place very soon,” warned Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandre Motouzianik.

On the diplomatic level, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, the first European official to visit Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Its aim is to obtain the opening of humanitarian corridors, while new European sanctions are being discussed in Luxembourg.

“Today will probably be the last battle” in Mariupol “because our ammunition is running out,” the 36th National Navy Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which is fighting in this city, besieged for more than 40 years, wrote on Facebook on Monday. days by the Russian army and largely destroyed.

“It will be death for some of us and captivity for others. We don’t know what will happen, but we really ask you to remember (us) with a kind word,” the 36th Brigade asked the Ukrainians.

“For more than a month, we fought without resupplying ammunition, without food, without water”, doing “the possible and the impossible”, added this unit, specifying that “half” of its members are wounded.

The Russians have for weeks been laying siege to Mariupol, the capture of which would allow them to consolidate their territorial gains on the coastal strip along the Sea of ​​Azov by connecting the regions of Donbass to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014 .

The leader of the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk said on Monday that his forces had completely conquered the port area of ​​Mariupol. “Regarding the port of Mariupol, it is already under our control,” said Denis Pouchiline, live on the Russian channel Pervy Kanal.

“I am the first to find the strength to say” that the Ukrainian forces cannot liberate Mariupol, “it is now impossible militarily”, declared Sunday evening on Youtube Oleksiï Arestovitch, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Speaking to South Korea’s National Assembly on Monday by videoconference, Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia had “completely destroyed” Mariupol, and said he feared that “tens of thousands of people” had perished there.

“It was a city of half a million people. The occupants besieged it and did not even allow water and food to be brought there. The Russians (…) reduced it to ashes”.

Ukrainian forces have also continued this weekend to fortify their positions in the east, around the Donbass and in this region, part of which has been controlled since 2014 by pro-Russian separatists.

After having revised its plans downwards and withdrawn its troops from the Kyiv region and northern Ukraine, Moscow has made the total conquest of Donbass its priority objective.

“Humanitarian Hell”

Analysts believe that Vladimir Putin, mired in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance, wants to secure a victory in this region before the May 9 military parade in Red Square marking the Soviet victory over the Nazis.

“Next week”, “Russian troops will move on to even greater operations in the east”, warned Mr. Zelensky on Sunday.

“The battle for Donbass will last for several days, and during these days our cities could be completely destroyed”, predicted for his part on Facebook Serguiï Gaïdaï, the governor of the Lugansk region, in Donbass, calling again on civilians to leave the area. According to him, “the Mariupol scenario can be repeated in the Lugansk region”.

Russia’s Defense Ministry on Sunday accused Ukrainians and Westerners of “monstrous and ruthless” provocations and killings of civilians in Lugansk.

On the diplomatic side, after going to Ukraine on Saturday, Karl Nehammer met Vladimir Putin behind closed doors in Moscow.

Karl Nehammer

“We must seize every opportunity to put an end to the humanitarian hell in Ukraine,” Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said in the morning, before a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

Mr. Nehammer, who came to Moscow on his “personal initiative”, will in particular plead with Mr. Putin for the establishment of “humanitarian corridors”, explained Mr. Schallenberg.

Mr. Nehammer had indicated on Sunday that he intended to raise the Kremlin with the “war crimes” in Boutcha, northwest of Kyiv, which has become a symbol of the atrocities of the war in Ukraine. Nearly 300 people were buried there in mass graves, according to the Ukrainian authorities, who accuse the Russians of massacres, which Moscow denies as a whole, denouncing a “manipulation”.

In Luxembourg, the foreign ministers of the European Union studied Monday a sixth package of sanctions against Moscow, which will however not affect the purchases of oil and gas. The head of EU diplomacy Josep Borrell announced his intention to launch the discussion on an oil embargo on Monday, “but a formal proposal is not on the table”, admitted a senior European official on Friday.

– World hunger ” –

At the end of this meeting, the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell accused Russia of “causing hunger in the world” with the war in Ukraine, by destroying wheat stocks and preventing it from being exported to ‘foreign.

“They cause scarcity. They are bombing Ukrainian cities and causing hunger in the world,” he said.

Volodymyr Zelensky called on Westerners to “follow the example of the United Kingdom”, whose Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Saturday, by imposing “a total embargo on Russian hydrocarbons”.

On Monday, the French bank Societe Generale, very involved so far in Russia, added itself to the list of Western companies which announced that they would cease their activities in the country since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops on February 24. .

A few hours later, the Swedish telecom equipment manufacturer Ericsson announced that it was suspending its activities in Russia, where it supplies two of the main mobile telephone operators.

In the vicinity of Kyiv, occupied for several weeks by the Russian army, the search for bodies continues. “To date, we have 1,222 people killed, for the Kyiv region alone,” Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said on Sunday.

She did not specify whether the bodies discovered were exclusively those of civilians, but she also mentioned 5,600 investigations opened for alleged war crimes since the beginning of the Russian invasion, including those of Boutcha.

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