LONDON — Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol is facing its “last days, if not hours,” a commander in the besieged city revealed this week as Russian forces gave Ukrainian soldiers until noon on Wednesday to surrender — a deadline the Ukrainians let expire.
Thousands of civilians and Ukrainian troops are sheltered in a steel plant, the last remaining stronghold of the city. However, the building is surrounded by Russian forces, leaving the people inside with no access to “normal” supplies of food and water, an adviser for the city’s mayor said.
“The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to 1,” Serhiy Volyna, a commander from the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, wrote on Facebook on Wednesday. “We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us. We ask them to use the procedure of extraction and take us to the territory of a third-party state.”
In recent days, Russian forces have intensified their push in the Donbas region, claiming the city of Kreminna in a new offensive to take eastern Ukraine. Russia has been trying to take full control of Mariupol since Feb. 24, when it launched its invasion. Taking control of Donbas would mean Russia would have a southern land corridor to the annexed Crimean Peninsula, which has been occupied by Kremlin forces since 2014.
According to Reuters, thousands of Russian troops, backed by artillery, are attempting to advance in what has been coined the “Battle of Donbas.” Moscow intends to seize the two eastern provinces that had already been claimed on behalf of separatists.
On Tuesday, the Azovstal steel plant, believed to be the last major pocket of resistance in Mariupol, was a target of Russian airstrikes. Footage released from Mariupol’s City Council appeared to show the aftermath of a strike on the devastated plant. This led to Ukrainian troops accusing enemy forces of bombing a hospital that was sheltering 300 people — including wounded soldiers and children. The deputy commander of the Azov regiment alleged that Kremlin-led forces had dropped bombs on the steel plant where the “improvised” hospital was.
Ukraine hopes to evacuate some 6,000 civilians from Mariupol on Wednesday, the city’s mayor, Vadym Boichenko, said. He said 90 buses were waiting to depart from the devastated city but cautioned that a safe-corridor agreement with Russia was not yet final. “We plan to send buses to Mariupol, but for now it is only a preliminary agreement,” Boichenko said on Ukrainian television. “We have managed to get a preliminary agreement on a humanitarian corridor for women, children and elderly persons,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Telegram.
Russia has blocked previous safety passages in and out of Mariupol, including one that the International Committee of the Red Cross requested at the end of March. In his address, Boichenko added that at least 100,000 civilians remain in Mariupol and that tens of thousands have been killed. The Kremlin has denied intentionally targeting civilians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video on Tuesday that the situation in Mariupol remained severe. “The Russian army is blocking any efforts to organize humanitarian corridors and save our people,” he alleged in his nightly address. Meanwhile, according to Russian state TV, about 120 civilians living next to the steel plant left via humanitarian corridors. This report has not been independently verified.