War in Ukraine, Day 56 | Mariupol just before the fall, the fighting escalate

(Zaporijjia) After a siege of almost two months, the strategically important Ukrainian port of Mariupol on Wednesday appeared close to falling into the hands of the Russians, who stepped up their offensive in the east and south of the country.

Posted at 6:17 am
Updated at 9:11 am

Joris FIORITI with Anatoly STEPANOV in Kramatorsk
Media Agency France

what you need to know

  • The bodies of Boutcha residents killed or dead during the month of Russian occupation were collected on April 3rd and autopsied since April 8th;
  • “We may be living our last days, even our last hours,” said a besieged Ukrainian military commander in Mariupol;
  • Mariupol: agreement on an evacuation corridor for women, children and the elderly;
  • Russia announced on Tuesday that it had carried out a dozen airstrikes and missiles in eastern Ukraine;
  • During the night from Tuesday to Wednesday, the staff of the Ukrainian armed forces confirmed that they had repelled 10 Russian attacks;
  • In the last 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have notably destroyed “12 tanks” also in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions;
  • European Council President Charles Michel visited Borodianka;
  • More than 5 million Ukrainians have fled their country.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday morning that the Russian army “is concentrating most of its efforts on taking Mariupol and continuing its attack attempts near the Azovstal Steel Plant,” the last island of resistance in that port in the Sea of ​​Azov, at the southern end of the Donbass .

“We may be living our last days, even our last hours,” said Serguiï Volyna, commander of the 36and Brigade of the Ukrainian Navy, transformed from a steel mill into a besieged fortress, according to a message on her Facebook account.

“The enemy outnumbers us ten times,” he added. “We are calling on all world leaders and asking them to help us. We ask them to use the extraction process and take us to the territory of a third country”.

Russia did not comment directly on the situation, but pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk region involved in the fighting said five Ukrainian soldiers defending the steel plant laid down their arms and 140 civilians were evacuated.

evacuate civilians

At least a thousand civilians, particularly women, children and the elderly, have been hiding with the militants “in the underground shelters” at the factory, the Mariupol City Council said on Tuesday, which estimates the number of civilians killed at least 20,000 in the city in a month and a half .

After three days without a humanitarian corridor, Kyiv said it reached “a preliminary agreement” with the Russians on Wednesday to set up an evacuation corridor from Mariupol. Residents were asked to gather at 2 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT) to leave for Zaporizhia. A 200km journey, sometimes lasting several days, with more than ten checkpoints to cross.

“In view of the catastrophic situation in Mariupol, we are focusing our efforts in this direction today,” said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

Russia, which on Tuesday urged Mariupol’s defenders to end “their senseless resistance” after a first ultimatum on Sunday, is determined to take that port that would allow it to link Crimea, annexed in 2014, to the breakaway republics of Donbass.

Its capture would also allow Moscow to inject additional forces into its efforts to seize control of the entire Donbass, which the separatists have only partially controlled since 2014.

– “Attempts to attack” in the Donbass

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has intensified since Monday evening.

After a series of strikes alleged by Moscow on Tuesday, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday morning reported “attempted attacks” on the villages of Sulygivka and Dibrivne in the Kharkiv region, and on Rubishne and Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region.

The governor of Luhansk, Sergei Gaidai, once again called on the civilian population to evacuate. “The situation is getting more complicated by the hour,” he wrote via Telegram messaging: “Stay safe […] Go”.

In Kramatorsk, a large city in the Donetsk region, residents polled by AFP expected the worst. “It’s going to be a mess,” said Alexandre, 53. “Until the Russians calm down, there’s nothing good to look forward to.”

Nina, 60, nostalgic for the Soviet days when “we didn’t meet anyone”, still hopes that “everything will be fine”.

According to a senior US Defense Department official, Russia has increased its military presence in eastern and southern Ukraine, increasing its total battalions in the country to 76.

Bombing also intensified in the south, another front line, particularly on the villages of Mala Tokmatchka and Orikhiv, 70 km southeast of Zaporijjia, AFP noted.

While war seemed far away last week, “now houses tremble when it comes from the Russian side and it happens much more often,” said Vitaly Dovbnya, who says he has a suitcase ready in the trunk of his car. .

In this region, the Russian Defense Ministry said it hit the villages of Kisselivka and Novovorontsovka in particular.

New weapons for Kyiv

“This new phase” of the war, as Russian diplomatic chief Sergei Lavrov described Tuesday, promises to be fierce. Especially as Ukraine is now receiving heavy weapons, which Westerners were reluctant to provide at the start of the February 24 Russian invasion to avoid escalating the conflict.

After the delivery of howitzer artillery pieces announced by US President Joe Biden last week, the Ukrainians now have “more fighter jets at their disposal than two weeks ago,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday.

“Without going into detail about what other countries are providing, I will say that they have received additional aircraft and spare parts to increase their fleet of fighter jets,” he added.

However, Ukraine’s Air Force Command said Wednesday it had received “no new aircraft” but “spare parts to repair existing aircraft.”

Kyiv demanded from Westerners Soviet Mig-29s that its soldiers can already fly and what a handful of Eastern European countries still have.

The Norwegian government informed him that it had given Kyiv about 100 French-made anti-aircraft missiles.

And Washington is preparing to approve a new $800 million military aid package, less than a week after announcing a tranche of the same amount, according to multiple American media outlets.

Deadlocked negotiations

The European Union reiterated its support for Kyiv on Wednesday with a visit by European Council President Charles Michel.

He went to Borodianka, one of the places near the Ukrainian capital where, like in Boutcha, where his European Commission counterpart Ursula von der Leyen went in early April, Ukrainians accuse the Russians of massacring civilians.

“History will not forget the war crimes committed here,” wrote Charles Michel on Twitter.

Tuesday’s call by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a four-day “humanitarian” ceasefire for the Orthodox Easter holiday — renewed on Wednesday by UN coordinator for Ukraine Amin Awad — seemed unlikely to be heard.

Especially since the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations, which were supposed to continue online since the last physical meeting in Istanbul at the end of March, appear to have stalled.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that Ukrainians “keep withdrawing from agreements”. “The ball is in their hands,” after Moscow handed them “a draft document,” he added, without specifying the content of that text.

-New applications to NATO

The Russian invasion continues to upset certain important global balances.

European countries that were not part of NATO now appear poised to join the military alliance, like Finland, which begins discussing membership on Wednesday. His candidacy is now likely and the debate there is being closely followed by neighboring Sweden, which is considering the same approach.

While global growth is expected to be slowed by the conflict, Russia, which is already under unprecedented sanctions, is expecting GDP to fall by 8.5% this year and Ukraine’s by 35%, according to new International Monetary forecasts Fund (IMF) on Tuesday.

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