Ukraine: the noose tightens on Mariupol, the Donbass in the Russian sights

KRAMATORSK | Russian forces on Tuesday are maintaining pressure on the strategic port city of Mariupol, which Ukrainian soldiers are desperate to defend amid destruction, and in eastern Ukraine where Kyiv expects a major offensive.

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The noose is tightening on the last Ukrainian troops defending Mariupol, besieged for more than 40 days by the Russian army, largely destroyed and where the humanitarian situation is dramatic.

According to Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaïlo Podoliak, on Twitter, “Ukrainian soldiers are surrounded and blocked” in the city where “tens of thousands” of people died there and “90% of the houses” were destroyed.

The conquest of Mariupol, in the southeast, would allow the Russians 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.

But the Ukrainian forces “continue to defend Mariupol”, assured the Ukrainian army on Telegram on Monday, ensuring that it was always in contact with the units which “heroically hold the city”.

“The Russians have temporarily occupied part of the city. The Ukrainian soldiers continue to defend the center and the south of the city, as well as the industrial zones”, specified the vice-mayor of the city Serguiï Orlov.

The Russian army, for its part, claimed to have thwarted Monday an attempt to break through by a hundred Ukrainian soldiers with armored vehicles which are in a factory in the north of the city, and who were trying to flee it according to it. Their exit was pushed back with “air strikes and artillery fire”, according to Moscow, which says it notably destroyed three tanks and killed around fifty “enemies”, and that 42 surrendered.

On Monday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again called on his foreign allies to send him more weapons to resist Russian forces.

“We are not getting as much as we need to end this war any faster. To completely destroy the enemy in our territory…in particular, to unblock” the siege of Mariupol, he said.

“Toxic substance”

Mr. Zelensky also indicated that he took “very seriously” the threats of chemical weapons in Mariupol brandished by the Russian camp.

He was referring to a statement on Monday by Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the self-declared pro-Russian republic of Donetsk (DNR), who spoke of the possible use of chemical weapons by Russian troops to drive out Ukrainian fighters defending the Azovstal factory, the big industrial complex of the city, on the coast.

The Ukrainian Azov regiment for its part claimed that a Russian drone had dropped a “toxic substance” there on soldiers and civilians.

“No chemical weapon was used by the DNR forces in Mariupol,” denied Mr. Bassourine to the Interfax agency.

Ukraine: the noose tightens on Mariupol, the Donbass in the Russian sights

“Information about the chemical attack is not currently confirmed,” Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, told Telegram. Monday evening, Washington had indicated that it could not confirm this information either.

“We verify this information. According to preliminary information, there is speculation that it was probably phosphorus ammunition. But official conclusions will come later,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar said on television.

In the east, bordering Russia and where Moscow has made the total conquest of the Donbass its priority objective, Kyiv has announced that it expects a major offensive in the short term.

“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.

In Washington, a senior Pentagon official confirmed that Russian forces were building up around the Donbass, and especially near the town of Izium.

Ukraine’s army general staff said on Facebook that they expect the Russians to launch offensives on towns like Popasna and Kurakhove soon to “take control of the whole Donetsk region”. one of the two provinces of Donbass, a region disputed by Ukrainians and pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

“The battle for the Donetsk and Lugansk regions is a crucial moment in the war,” Zelensky’s chief of staff Andrii Yermak said on Telegram.

Civilians continued to flee Lugansk and Donetsk regions, from where six evacuation trains were to leave on Tuesday according to the Lugansk regional administration.

Visiting Vostochni, in the Russian Far East, on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the “courageous, professional, effective” struggle of Russian officers who “are taking part in the special military operation in Donbass”.

This offensive was, according to him, necessary and inevitable to “ensure the security of Russia” against a Ukraine which “has begun to be transformed into an anti-Russian stronghold, to cultivate nationalism, neo-Nazism”.

Analysts believe that Mr 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.

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

Rape and sexual violence

UN officials on Monday called for investigations into violence against women in Ukraine and the protection of millions of children displaced by the conflict, at a Security Council meeting initiated by the United States and the Albania.

“We hear more and more about rape and sexual violence,” said Sima Bahous, director of the UN agency UN Women.

More than 4.5 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their country since the invasion ordered by Vladimir Putin on February 24, according to the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Ukraine: the noose tightens on Mariupol, the Donbass in the Russian sights

On the diplomatic level, the first visit of a European official to Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine, that of Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer on Monday, has hardly moved the lines.

In Luxembourg, European Union foreign ministers on Monday discussed a sixth package of sanctions against Moscow, which will not, however, affect purchases of oil and gas.

Volodymyr Zelensky continues to ask all his European interlocutors “to adopt powerful sanctions”. He calls for a halt in oil and gas purchases and the supply of heavy weapons to resist the announced offensive in the east.

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