Boston Herald

Russia claims control of Mariupol

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POKROVSK, Ukraine — Russia claimed to have captured Mariupol on Friday in what would be its biggest victory yet in its war with Ukraine, after a nearly three-month siege that reduced much of the strategic port city to a smoking ruin, with over 20,000 civilians feared dead.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin the “complete liberation” of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol — the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance — and the city as a whole, spokesman Igor Konashenko­v said.

There was no immediate confirmati­on from Ukraine.

Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the ministry as saying a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up at the steelworks had surrendere­d since Monday, including over 500 on Friday.

As they surrendere­d, the troops were taken prisoner by the Russians, and at least some were taken to a former penal colony. Others were said to be hospitaliz­ed.

The defense of the steel mill had been led by Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, whose far-right origins have been seized on by the Kremlin as part of an effort to cast its invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine. Russia said the Azov commander was taken away from the plant in an armored vehicle.

Russian authoritie­s have threatened to investigat­e some of the steel mill’s defenders for war crimes and put them on trial, branding them “Nazis” and criminals. That has stirred internatio­nal fears about their fate.

The steelworks, which sprawled across 4 square miles, had been the site of fierce fighting for weeks. The dwindling group of outgunned fighters had held out, drawing Russian airstrikes, artillery and tank fire, before their government ordered them to abandon the plant’s defense and save themselves.

The complete takeover of Mariupol gives Putin a badly needed victory in the war he began on Feb. 24 — a conflict that was supposed to have been a lightning conquest for the Kremlin but instead has seen the failure to take the capital of Kyiv, a pullback of forces to refocus on eastern Ukraine, and the sinking of the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Military analysts said Mariupol’s capture at this point is of mostly symbolic importance, since the city was already effectivel­y under Moscow’s control and most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the fighting there had already left.

In other developmen­ts Friday, the West moved to pour billions more in aid into Ukraine and fighting raged in the Donbas, the industrial heartland in eastern Ukraine that Putin is bent on capturing.

Russian forces shelled a vital highway and kept up attacks on a key city in the Luhansk region, hitting a school among other sites, Ukrainian authoritie­s said. Luhansk is part of the Donbas.

The Kremlin had sought control of Mariupol to complete a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops to join the larger battle for the Donbas. The city’s loss also deprives Ukraine of a vital seaport.

Mariupol endured some of the worst suffering of the war and became a worldwide symbol of defiance. An estimated 100,000 people remained out a prewar population of 450,000, many trapped without food, water, heat or electricit­y.

 ?? AP PHOTOS ?? GUARDS: An APC of Donetsk People’s Republic militia stands not far from Mariupol’s besieged Azovstal steel plant, in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, Thursday.
AP PHOTOS GUARDS: An APC of Donetsk People’s Republic militia stands not far from Mariupol’s besieged Azovstal steel plant, in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, Thursday.
 ?? ?? AND THEY’RE OUT: Ukrainian servicemen sit in a bus after they left the besieged Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, near a penal colony in Olyonivka, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, Friday.
AND THEY’RE OUT: Ukrainian servicemen sit in a bus after they left the besieged Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, near a penal colony in Olyonivka, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, Friday.

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