Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 15 March 2022 Author: Grzegorz Kuczyński
Russian Invasion Of Ukraine: The Battle Of Mariupol, Or A Ukrainian Stalingrad
The southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of 500,000, has been a top target of Russian forces since they invaded Ukraine. Seizing the city would bring about a massive propaganda effect for Russia and prompt Moscow’s retaliation for the efficient defense the port located on the Sea of Azov had seen back in 2014.
Mariupol, which is located close to Russian-occupied Donbas, saw an ongoing barrage of artillery fire since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24. The next day, Russian troops headed on the city from the northwest but were stopped near the village of Pavlopil. Then the Russians encircled Mariupol from the north before connecting with troops that advanced on from the west, from Crimea (March 3). The city came under siege within a matter of days. Russian forces there include the 58th Army, the 3rd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade (a special brigade force of the Russian military intelligence), and the Sparta Battalion, which is a rebel militant group of what is called the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Ukrainian forces that defend the city include the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade, stationed at Bila Tserkva, the 56th Motorized Brigade, the 36th Marine Brigade, 46th Separate Special Purposes Battalion “Donbas-Ukraina,” the Azov Regiment (a unit of the National Guard of Ukraine), the 25th and the 37th Battalions, and the 109th Territorial Defense Brigade. The Russians on March 13 captured several towns northwest of Mariupol near the regions of Donetsk and Zaporizhia. This could potentially cut off Ukrainian forces that are stationed along the former demarcation line near the town of Volnovakha in Donbas. As in other major Ukrainian cities, Russian forces have not attacked Mariupol frontally. They cover Ukrainian-controlled districts with artillery fire and seize them gradually. The Russians have gained control of its eastern part. Now Mariupol is a number one target for Russian forces and a key priority in the Ukrainian defense strategy. In a video address posted to his Facebook page on March 13, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the high priority was to help the besieged city in its fight against the Russian invader. Deprived of the control of the port on the Sea of Azov, which allows for maritime trade from Donbas, Russia is unable to ensure a land route to the occupied Crimean peninsula. The city sits in a highly strategic position. If Russian forces capture Mariupol, they will gain control of the Ukrainian coast stretching to Mykolaiv, just west of Crimea. The town of Volnovakha, which is north of Mariupol, is of chief importance, too. Through the city runs the H20 highway that connects Mariupol, Donetsk, Kramatorsk, and Sloviansk. Running southwards, it is one of the key routes in Donbas. The eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha has been completely destroyed by Russian forces but Ukrainian soldiers are defending it to prevent the aggressor from sieging Mariupol even deeper than that. Ukrainian authorities have said that 1,500 civilians had been killed in Mariupol. The city is seeing more humanitarian convoys. Russian forces on March 12 blocked a humanitarian convoy that left the city of Zaporizhia. Nearly 125,000 people have been evacuated via humanitarian corridors from conflict zones in Ukraine so far. The roughly 400,000 people who remain in Mariupol have been left with no access to heat, food, and medicine. It was not until March 14 that some locals had been evacuated through a humanitarian route, heading on towards Berdyansk and then Zaporizhia. Earlier efforts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol were scuppered by ceasefire violations.
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