Ns News Online Desk: More than a thousand soldiers of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, including 162 officers, have surrendered in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Moscow’s main target in the eastern Donbass region which it has yet to bring under its control, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday.
If the Russians seize the Azovstal industrial district, where the marines have been holed up, they would be in full control of Mariupol, the lynchpin between Russian-held areas to the west and east providing a land corridor for troops and supplies.
It would be the first major city to fall to Russian forces since they invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Ukraine’s general staff said that Russian forces were proceeding with attacks on Azovstal and the port. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said he had no information about any surrender. Reuters journalists accompanying Russian-backed separatists saw flames billowing from the Azovstal district on Tuesday.
“I don’t have information,” Motuzyanyk said in a message in reply to a request for comment.
Thousands are believed to have been killed under a near-seven week siege of Mariupol and Russia has been massing thousands of troops in the area for a new assault, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Ukraine says tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped inside that city with no way to bring in food or water, and accuses Russia of blocking aid convoys.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that 1,026 soldiers of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade surrendered.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ardent supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, urged remaining Ukrainian holed up in Azovstal to surrender. “Within Azovstal at the moment there are about 200 wounded who cannot receive any medical assistance,” Kadyrov said in a Telegram post. “For them and all the rest it would be better to end this pointless resistance and go home to their families.”
Russian television showed pictures of what it said were marines giving themselves up at Illich Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol on Tuesday, many of them wounded. It showed what it said were Ukrainian soldiers being marched down a road with their hands in the air. One of the soldiers was shown holding a Ukrainian passport.
Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945, has seen more than 4.6 million people flee abroad, killed or wounded thousands and left Russia increasingly isolated on the world stage.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said 191 children had been killed and 349 wounded since the start of the invasion.
The Kremlin says it launched a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies reject that as a false pretext for an unprovoked attack.
U.S. President Joe Biden said for the first time that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine amounted to genocide, as Putin said Russia would “rhythmically and calmly” continue its operation and achieve its goals. Russia has denied targeting civilians and has said Ukrainian and Western allegations of war crimes are fabricated.
Many towns Russia has retreated from in northern Ukraine were littered with the bodies of civilians killed in what Kyiv says was a campaign of murder, torture and rape.
Interfax Ukraine news agency on Wednesday quoted the Kyiv district police chief saying 720 bodies had been found in the region around the capital, with more than 200 people missing.
The General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russian forces were maintaining attacks on civilian infrastructure in the Kharkiv region in the northeast and the Zaporizhzhia region in central Ukraine.
At least seven people were killed and 22 wounded in Kharkiv over the past 24 hours, Gov. Oleh Synegubov said. A 2-year-old boy was among those killed in the 53 artillery or rocket strikes Russian forces had carried out in the region, he said in an online post.
Zelenskyy mocked Putin in an early morning address: “How could a plan that provides for the death of tens of thousands of their own soldiers in a little more than a month of war come about?”
The assault on the industrial heartland of Donbass sets the stage for a protracted battle that is certain to inflict heavy losses on both sides and will ultimately define the course of the war, analysts said.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said there was a high risk of Russia using chemical weapons, echoing earlier warnings by Zelenskyy. Chemical weapons production, use and stockpiling is banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. Russia denied using chemical weapons, saying it had destroyed its last chemical stockpiles in 2017.