Ukrainian forces said on Monday they were preparing for the fall of Mariupol, a strategic port in the south-east besieged for more than 40 days by the Russian army and largely destroyed, and fortifying their positions in the east awaiting a imminent offensive from Moscow.
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“According to our information, the enemy has almost completed its preparation for an assault on the east. The attack will take place very soon,” warned the spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, Oleksandre Motouzianik.
On the diplomatic level, the Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, the first European official to go to Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine, was to try there during the day to obtain humanitarian corridors, while new European sanctions were discussed in Luxemburg.
“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, wrote on Facebook on Monday.
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 .
“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.
“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.
Addressing the National Assembly of South Korea by videoconference on Monday, Mr. Zelensky said that 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”.
He accused Russia of wanting to make this martyr city “an example”, calling on South Korea to help his country by providing it with military equipment, “from planes to tanks”.
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 scaled back its plans and withdrawn its troops from the kyiv region and northern Ukraine, Moscow has made the total conquest of Donbass its priority objective.
Analysts believe that Russian President 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 evening.
“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 Sergei 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 Friday, still in the east, a Russian missile strike in front of Kramatorsk station left 57 dead, including at least 5 children.
As the population tries to flee the region, airstrikes and bombardments continue: Sunday in Kharkiv (east), the second city of the country, and in its suburbs, they left at least 11 dead, including a 7-year-old child , and 14 injured, according to regional authorities.
On the diplomatic side, after going to Ukraine on Saturday, Karl Nehammer is to meet Vladimir Putin in Moscow in the afternoon and behind closed doors.
“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 “does not have a European mandate” and comes to Moscow on his “personal initiative”, will in particular plead with Mr. Putin for the establishment of “humanitarian corridors”, explained Mr. Schallenberg, adding: “We want international humanitarian organizations to be able to do their job”.
“Any voice that makes President Putin understand what the reality is like outside the Kremlin walls is not a lost voice,” he concluded, while acknowledging that “no one is waiting for a miracle.”
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.
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. Russia and Ukraine represent less than 2% of its turnover.
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,” Ms. Venediktova told British channel Sky News 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.
While denouncing the Russian abuses, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kouleba, however said on Sunday on the American channel NBC open to negotiation with Moscow to avoid new “massacres”.