Ukrainian officials on Saturday, March 19, said ongoing fighting in one of Europe’s biggest steel mills inside the cut-off city Mariupol has left the plant in ruins, and that Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) are unable to launch an operation to relieve the Azov Sea port.
Russian Federation (RF) units cut links between Mariupol on the fourth day of the war, blocking movement of refugees out and supplies in. For more than a week RF combat units have used ground forces, air strikes and artillery bombardments in an attempt to capture the city, against fierce and sometimes effective Ukrainian defenders.
More than 300,000 civilians are reportedly trapped in Mariupol. They have been without electricity, heat and clean water for more than two weeks. According to city officials food and medical supplies ran out on Thursday.
Presidential Administration adviser Oleksiy Arestovych in Friday evening comments widely repeated by Ukrainian media said that the UAF currently lacks the forces to relieve the city. The statement was the clearest indication yet that Kyiv will not attempt to break the blockade any time soon.
Vadym Denysenko, an Interior Ministry spokesman, in a statement said Ukraine Armed Forces (UAF) units were locked in close battle with RF attackers in the Azovstal steel mill, in Mariupol’s north-east. He said damage from the fighting and continuing RF bombardments have left the plant completely ruined, and impossible to repair.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss, among other issues, a ceasefire in the Mariupol sector and a lifting of the RF blockade, so humanitarian aid might enter the city and refugees might leave.
Since Thursday RF forces have allowed small private automobile convoys to leave Mariupol, but blocked all humanitarian from going in. According to news reports citing UAF government figures, 4,972 civilians escaped Mariupol on Friday, among them 1,124 children.