Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday claimed the “liberation” of the flattened city of Mariupol after nearly two months of fighting, demanding its trapped Ukrainian defenders be sealed into their underground last stand.
The fate of the besieged port has become totemic as Russia battles to complete a land bridge covering territories of Ukraine already under its control, including Crimea — which would deprive the country of its industrial heartland and most of its coastline.
President Joe Biden, however, said Putin was doomed to failure in Ukraine, as he announced $800 million (740 million euros) in extra US military aid including howitzers and tactical drones.
“Our unity at home with our allies and partners, and our unity with the Ukrainian people, is sending an unmistakable message to Putin — he will never succeed in dominating and occupying all of Ukraine,” he said.
Ukraine appealed for an immediate humanitarian corridor to allow civilians and wounded fighters to be evacuated from Mariupol’s sprawling Azovstal steel plant.
“Mariupol has been liberated,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin during a televised meeting. “The remaining nationalist formations took refuge in the industrial zone of the Azovstal plant.”
Shoigu said around 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers remained inside the site, where the last pocket of resistance has been sheltering in a network of tunnels.
Up to 2,000 civilians are also enduring terrible conditions as they seek refuge inside the plant, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Putin said the “liberation” of Mariupol was a “success” for Russian forces but ordered Shoigu to call off the planned storming of the plant, dismissing it as “impractical”.
“There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities. Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly can escape,” Putin said.
Olexiy Arestovych, an advisor to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, said that Russia had in fact admitted defeat in Mariupol and diverted forces further north.
Its aim was to reinforce the fight for all of Lugansk and Donetsk, two regions of Ukraine controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.
“They won’t succeed,” Arestovych warned.
The West staged another show of support for Zelensky with a visit to Kyiv by the Spanish and Danish prime ministers, who both pledged more military assistance.
With inputs from NDTV