USA TODAY International Edition

In Mariupol, Ukraine’s spirit is unbreakabl­e

Courage amid relentless bombardmen­t is admirable, but humanitari­an needs are growing as aid stalls

- Melinda Haring is the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. Andrey Stavnitser is the CEO of TIS and HelpUkrain­e.Center

Since Russia announced that it would begin phase 2 of the war and focus on making gains in eastern Ukraine several weeks ago, it has little to show for itself. But Russian President Vladimir Putin is not letting up. Most analysts agree that Putin’s army is working out resupply routes for the next big push.

Recently, Russia finally allowed some women, children and the elderly to leave the besieged and devastated Mariupol, which rests on the Sea of Azov and was a key port city for exporting steel from Ukraine. The once bustling city of 465,000 could portend what Putin would like to do to each major city in Ukraine – hold innocent people hostage and indiscrimi­nately bomb their cities until the ruble bounces.

Mariupol now resembles Aleppo, Syria, where Putin’s military also engaged in both war crimes and crimes against humanity – and got away with it. About 100,000 people remain scattered throughout Mariupol, and they lack access to basic needs – electricit­y, heat, food and clean drinking water.

There’s no way yet to get into the city and count the dead. Some estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed. One thing is certain: When the Ukrainian military eventually retakes Mariupol, the world will be forced to confront even more horrific crimes like those in Bucha, if not worse.

Azovstal, the last major holdout in the city, a gigantic steel plant that symbolizes Ukraine’s resistance, is outmanned but defiant. Ukrainian marines and members of its Azov battalion are courageous­ly fighting to the death in the hope of trying to defend the industrial complex.

A cloud of black smoke hangs over the shuttered steel plant, a product of relentless Russian bombing. Ordinary Ukrainians also have taken refuge in the complex, and despite numerous appeals from the pope and other world luminaries, Putin had refused to allow them safe passage. He didn’t even budge on Easter Sunday.

May 9, Victory Day?

This is the same city where a beautiful old drama theater sheltered 1,000 women and children who had lost their homes. People wrote “CHILDREN” in huge white letters on the ground at the entrance and exit to the theater, hoping that human decency might sow doubt as Russian pilots questioned whether to follow their orders and bomb the theater. But the theater was destroyed.

On May 1, shelling ceased briefly for the first time in more than 60 days and about 100 civilians were allowed to leave the plant, in a deal negotiated by the Internatio­nal Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations. As soon as the bus carrying the innocents pulled out, shooting resumed.

This past Saturday, the evacuation of all women, children and elderly people from the plant was completed.

The Azovstal mill and Mariupol may fall at any moment, and their defeat cannot come soon enough for the aging autocrat in Moscow. Putin needs something to brag about on Monday, the biggest holiday on the Russian calendar. On Victory Day, the country celebrates the Soviet Union’s defeat over Nazism. Putin normally gives a militarist­ic, chest- thumping address.

At a military parade Monday in Moscow’s Red Square, Putin said Russia’s troops in Ukraine were “fighting for the motherland, its future.”

But he did not, as some Western officials expected, use his speech to declare a full mobilizati­on or “war” against Ukraine. Putin stuck with the phrase he has used to describe Russia’s invasion – a “special military operation.” There was no declaratio­n of victory.

The bottom line is that Putin badly miscalcula­ted on Feb. 24 when he again ordered his troops to invade Ukraine. He thought that he would be in and out in a matter of days. The country would fall easily. He would replace Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a Russian puppet. What he didn’t bank was on the Ukrainian nation resisting.

Russia is floundering: Putin’s troops have seized only one major city and incurred major casualties. Putin is also an internatio­nal pariah, and his country is laboring under heavy sanctions.

So far, Putin has been unable to realize his goals. Ukraine remains a sovereign nation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organizati­on may soon have new members, and the West is unified like never before against the Russian threat.

Putin remains undeterred, and his army continues to lay waste across Ukraine. The situation is dire and only getting worse. More than 12 million Ukrainians have left their homes, 5.7 million to neighborin­g countries and 6.5 million are displaced within Ukraine.

The United Nations expects 8 million Ukrainians to leave the country by the year’s end.

Honor Ukrainians’ courage

Meanwhile, as humanitari­an needs grow, internatio­nal aid remains stuck in warehouses as many of the top relief organizati­ons are unable to transport goods across the country. They still haven’t gotten started, while the humanitari­an crisis is already severe. They foolishly refuse to work with trusted Ukrainian partners who can easily move relief efforts to needy hands. We need to apply more pressure on humanitari­an organizati­ons to deliver now.

As Americans generously give, they should donate only to organizati­ons that can deliver. Razom, a New York City- based American charity, does. The same goes for HelpUkrain­e. Center

The courage that Ukrainians demonstrat­e daily has already shocked the world and indeed Ukrainians themselves. Still, Ukraine needs the world to stand up for it, to speak out, and keep it in the headlines for as long as it takes.

 ?? Melinda Haring Atlantic Council Andrey Savnitser HelpUkrain­e. Center ??
Melinda Haring Atlantic Council Andrey Savnitser HelpUkrain­e. Center
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