Mariupol ‘has been wiped off the face of the earth’ by Russia, says the Ukrainian governor

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As Russia appears ready to conquer Mariupol more than six weeks after the invasion, Ukraine’s Donetsk region governor said on Friday that while Ukrainian troops remain in control of the strategic port city, Mariupol has “been wiped off the face of the earth” by Russian forces.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor, told CNN that troops are still “bravely defending Mariupol” against the Russian forces that have bombed the city on the Azov Sea and left it in ruins.

“The enemy can not conquer Mariupol. The enemy can seize the land that Mariupol used to stand on, but the city of Mariupol is no more,” Kyrylenko said. will never be able to recover it. “

Russian troops have been besieging Mariupol for more than a month, cutting off its citizens from food, water, heat and humanitarian aid with few exceptions. Russian troops have cut parts of the city from Ukrainian control.

Analysts predict that it will probably be the first major Ukrainian city to fall in the coming week. The occupation of Mariupol would give Russia control of the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov and serve as a land bridge between Russian-controlled territories in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula, which Russia took from Ukraine in 2014.

The situation in Mariupol remains “complicated,” Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, said in a news briefing on Friday. Motuzyanyk claimed that Russia is still focused on attacking industrial areas and the port of Mariupol, and that invading forces intensified their shelling by using a Tu-22М3 long-range bomber to attack the city for the first time.

“But the Russians have not yet fully managed to take control of the city,” he said.

The Moscow warship hit two Ukrainian missiles before it sank, the Pentagon said

The ongoing destruction in Mariupol comes as the UN has renewed calls for civilians to be ensured safe passage out of the besieged city. Humanitarian organizations have been trying to facilitate safe passage corridors out of Mariupol for weeks, with mixed success. About 100,000 people are still believed to be inside the city, which had a population of 450,000 before the war began.

“Tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol – which has been an epicenter of terror since the conflict began – and elsewhere in Ukraine have now endured 50 days of violence and shelling,” said Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, on Thursday. in a press release.

Griffiths added: “I urge the parties to the conflict to honor their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, homes and civilian infrastructure throughout Ukraine.”

While Ukrainian troops have slowed Russia’s efforts to claim Mariupol, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed further progress on Friday, saying its forces are now in full control of Mariupol’s Ilyich Iron and Steel Works.

But Ukrainian forces in Mariupol retain their grip on the Azovstal steelworks, one of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe. The Azov Battalion, one of Ukraine’s most capable – and controversial – military units, defended the sprawling steelworks in the city’s east against repeated attacks this week, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. A photo shared by a reporter for the Kyiv Independent newspaper appeared to show smoke billowing from the heavy industrial area.

Azovstal is operated by Metinvest, which produced about 45 percent of Ukraine’s steel production last year. The company, which produces millions of tons of iron, steel and pre-rolled products a year, is owned by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man.

Eduard Basurin, a pro-Moscow separatist leader, said on Monday that he expected Russian forces to use “chemical troops” at Azovstal to “smoke moles out of their caves,” the institute reported. The Azov Battalion, which is associated with extreme right-wing nationalism, later claimed that Moscow had used chemical poison against troops in the region. The United States and several international organizations are investigating the allegation.

According to many accounts, Mariupol has experienced some of the worst atrocities of the invasion. In March, Ukraine accused Russia of beating a maternity hospital there; videos and photos of the aftermath show children and bloody pregnant women on the run. A week later, a drama theater, where hundreds were in shelter, was bombed – even though the word “children” in Russian had been painted on the floor outside.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko told the Associated Press that at least 21,000 people have been killed in Mariupol, with corpses “covered with blankets through the streets.”

On Friday, Kyrylenko said Ukrainian and Russian forces could take part in a major battle in Mariupol over the next few days. He noted that while Russia has suffered losses in armaments and personnel in Mariupol, the governor had “not seen a full-scale offensive in all directions as we expected” and that the city remains under Ukrainian control.

“The Ukrainian flag is waving over the city of Mariupol,” he said.

Looking ahead, Kyrylenko told CNN that restoring Mariupol one day is “only something Ukraine can do.”

“It’s something the Russians will never be able to do,” he said. “So the city of Mariupol is no more.”

Julian Duplain and Paul Sonne contributed to this report.

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