Russia claims full control of Mariupol and ‘complete liberation’ of recalcitrant steel plant

Invasion Day 86 Updates

  • Russian forces continue to attack Lysychansk, Severodonetsk.

  • The governor of Luhansk said that Russia now controls 90% of the eastern region.

  • Putin says Russia has faced a barrage of cyberattacks from the West.

Russia claimed it 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 more than 20,000 civilians dead.

There was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced 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, the report said. spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

According to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, the ministry said a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters who had been entrenched in Azovstal had laid down their arms and surrendered since Monday, including more than 500 on Friday.

The Azovstal steel plant is seen in Mariupol on Friday. (Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

The steel mills had been the scene of fierce fighting for weeks. The dwindling group of underarmed fighters had held out in the factory, drawing Russian airstrikes, artillery and tank fire before their government ordered them to abandon its defense and save their lives.

The Azovstal complex covers 11 square kilometers and is criss-crossed by approximately 24 kilometers of tunnels and bunkers. Earlier in May, hundreds of civilians were evacuated from the factory during humanitarian ceasefires.

The complete takeover of Mariupol gives Putin a much-needed military victory in the war he started on February 24 – a conflict that was supposed to have been a quick and easy victory for the Kremlin, but which instead saw the failure to capture the capital of kyiv, a withdrawal of his forces to refocus on the battles in eastern Ukraine, and even the sinking of the Russian flagship of his Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva.

Mariupol is located in Donetsk, which together with Luhansk forms Donbass – a predominantly Russian-speaking eastern region that has been partly held by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

Residents walk past a heavily damaged residential building in Mariupol on Friday. (Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

Military analysts say the capture of the city at this stage has more symbolic significance than anything else, since Mariupol is already effectively under Moscow’s control and most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the endless fighting are already parts.

Russia had sought control of Mariupol, on the Sea of ​​Azov coast, to complete a land corridor from Donbass to the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and release troops to join the growing battle for control of the Donbass region. It would also deprive Ukraine of a vital port.

The city endured some of the worst suffering of the war. An estimated 100,000 people remained out of a pre-war population of 450,000, many of whom were trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. The constant shelling left behind broken and charred buildings, row after row of destroyed buildings and ruined neighborhoods.

Increase in attacks in the Donbass

On Friday, Russian forces continued to attack the towns of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region in an attempt to cut off the area from the rest of Ukraine, the region’s governor said.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk, said Russian forces were particularly concentrated on the Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway, the only route to evacuate people and deliver humanitarian supplies.

“The road is extremely important as it is the only connection with other parts of the country,” he said by email. “The Russians are trying to cut us off, to encircle the Luhansk region.”

A burning vehicle is seen near Lysychansk on Friday. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces were constantly shelling the road from multiple directions, but Ukrainian armored transports were still able to pass, Haidai said.

Troops from Moscow have been trying for weeks to seize Severodonetsk, a key city in Donbass. One of Friday’s attacks targeted a school in Severodonetsk that housed more than 200 people, including many children, Haidai said. Three adults were killed, he said on the Telegram messaging app.

According to Haidai, 12 people were killed in Severodonetsk. It wasn’t immediately clear if that included the three at school. Additionally, more than 60 homes were destroyed across the region, he said.

Dmytro Mosur, 32, who lost his wife in a bombing in the nearby town of Severodonetsk on May 17, holds his two-year-old twin daughters as they wait to be fetched from Lysychansk on Friday. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces now control 90% of Luhansk, Haidai said, but he also noted that the attack on Severodonetsk had failed – “the Russians suffered personnel casualties and withdrew”. His account could not be independently verified.

Haidai said another town, Rubizhne, was “completely destroyed” and “its plight can be compared to that of Mariupol”.

Pro-Moscow separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the Donbass for the past eight years and detained a considerable part of them before Russia invaded. But efforts by Putin’s troops to take more territory there have been slow.

In a sign of Russia’s frustration with the war, some senior commanders have been fired in recent weeks, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.

Russian forces elsewhere in Ukraine continued to fire on targets, some of them civilians.

In the village of Velyka Kostromka, west of Donbass, explosions in the middle of the night shook Iryna Martsyniuk’s house to its foundations on Thursday. The roof frame shattered and windows shattered, sending shards of glass into a wall near three sleeping children.

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“There were lightning everywhere,” Martsyniuk said. “There was smoke everywhere.”

She said she grabbed the children and ran to the entrance of the house, “but the hallway was no longer there. Instead, we saw the starry night.”

They ran down the road to a neighbour’s house, where they hid in the basement.

About 20 other houses were damaged and two people were slightly injured, said Olha Shaytanova, the village chief.

Putin blames Western cyberattacks

Putin says his country faced a barrage of cyberattacks from the West amid the invasion of Ukraine, but managed to fend them off.

Addressing members of the Russian Security Council on Friday, Putin noted that “the challenges in this area have become even more urgent, serious and extensive.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on Friday. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin/Reuters)

He accused “outright aggression has been unleashed against Russia, a war has been waged in the information space”.

Putin added that “the cyber aggression against us, just like the attack on Russia through sanctions in general, has failed.”

He ordered the officials to “hone and improve mechanisms to ensure information security in critical industrial facilities that directly affect our country’s defensive capability and stable development of economic and social spheres.” “.