The last Ukrainian soldiers defending Mariupol said they were “running out of ammunition” on Monday and expected to be killed or taken prisoner very soon by Russian forces surrounding the city.
Writing on Facebookthe 36th brigade said its 47-day defense of Mariupol was coming to a tragic conclusion.
“We were bombed from airplanes and shot at by artillery and tanks. We have been doing everything possible and impossible. But any resource has the potential to run out,” it said.
Russian troops have been besieging the city on the Sea of Azov since the beginning of March. The territory controlled by Ukrainian forces has gradually shrunk to a few central areas. The surviving marines are now holed up in the Azovstal iron and steelworks next to the port.
“The enemy gradually pushed us back. They surrounded us with fire, and are now trying to destroy us,” the marines posted. The “mountain of wounded” amounted to nearly half of the brigade, they added, with those “whose limbs are not torn off” continuing to fight.
Their infantry soldiers had all been killed. The “shooting battles” against the Russians were now being conducted by artillerymen and anti-aircraft gunners, as well as radio operators, drivers and cooks. Even musicians from the orchestra were fighting, they said.
The desperate last bulletin came as Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia had “destroyed” Mariupol. “There are tens of thousands of dead. Even despite this the Russians are not stopping their offensive,” he told South Korea’s parliament.
Zelenskiy said it was too soon for Ukraine to declare it had won the battle for Kyiv, given the scale of the suffering of civilians living in Russian-occupied areas in the capital’s garden suburbs.
“Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel – if the people of those [towns] were wiped out, then did we win this battle? I’m not sure. We’ve withstood, and we did not give up what is ours. But whether we won, I can’t say,” he told CBS News.
The exact number of residents killed in Mariupol is unlikely to be known. Its Ukrainian-controlled council said the Russians had been collecting bodies – many of them lying in shattered streets – and incinerating them in a mobile crematorium.
After failing to seize Kyiv, Russia has refocused its military efforts on the eastern Donbas region. When Mariupol falls, Russian tactical battalions are expected to advance north and to try to link up with other military columns moving south from the city of Iyzum and the Kharkiv region.
Western officials said they expected Russia to try to “double or perhaps even treble” its forces in Donbas as it shifts forces from Kyiv and elsewhere in the coming weeks.
The first of those forces had begun to redeploy via Belarus, but the whole exercise would take “some considerable time” and it was unclear how many units could be effectively brought back into battle.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said a full-scale Kremlin attack is likely. “They have almost finished their preparations. We expect an offensive in the near future,” spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told the Guardian. Asked if the Russians could encircle Ukraine’s defending eastern army, he replied: “We are not going to let this happen.”
Ukraine’s high command faces an urgent tactical dilemma. Several Russian battalions retreated late last month from the Kyiv region to Belarus. Some are now making the long journey via Belgorod on the Russian side of the border, to redeploy into the south-east of Ukraine.
Other units have stayed put. If Kyiv moves the bulk of its forces to the Donetsk and Luhansk territories, this would leave the capital exposed to a second surprise Russian attack from Belarus.
In their message, the marines in Mariupol also say they feel “written off” by their commander in chief. They say repeated promises to relieve the crushing Russian blockade of the city, or to evacuate some of their wounded by helicopter, came to nothing. “There were chances. Due to silliness they were not implemented,” the brigade wrote.
Like Mariupol’s trapped civilian population, the soldiers have been living in hellish conditions. “For more than a month, we fought without resupplying our ammunition, without food, without water,” the marines posted, adding that they were forced to drink water from puddles.
The message ends: “It’s death for some of us, and captivity for the rest. Do not talk badly about the Marines. For we are FAITHFUL FOREVER!”
Russia has claimed it targeted Ukrainian air defense systems in airstrikes overnight on Sunday which completely destroyed the airport in the eastern city of Dnipro. Another attack wounded five people in the town of Zvonetsky, according to Ukrainian officials.
Emergency workers were also combing through an infrastructure facility in Zvonetsky that was attacked on Monday. Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said casualty figures would be given at a later point.
Reznichenko earlier said that the Dnipro attack had wounded one person, while rockets had sparked a fire that was eventually put out. A missile had also hit a building in the Pavlohrad district, I added.
Separately, the head of the Dnipro region council, Mykola Lukashuk, said five staff members of the state emergency service had been injured by the strike on the airport.
Russia said that it had targeted an S-300 air defense missile system transported to Ukraine by Slovenia last week, a claim denied by Slovenia. Kyiv has repeatedly begged its western allies for long-range air defense systems to help it against the Russian invasion.
Dnipro, an industrial city home to 1 million people, has become a vital reception point for Ukrainians from farther east who have been told to evacuate in the face of both Russian advances on the ground and intensifying airstrikes and artillery attacks.
There seems little prospect Moscow will stop its Ukraine invasion anytime soon. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said negotiation talks with Ukraine would continue, but stressed in an interview with Itar-Tass there will be no pause in hostilities until a final agreement is reached and signed.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism