Following a month and three weeks of intense fighting in Ukraine, Mariupol is still left standing despite almost 100% of its infrastructure being destroyed by Russian bombardment campaigns. While Ukrainian Forces from the Azov Battalion and the 36th Marine Brigade are still conducting counterattacks against the Russian forces within the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works complex, Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the city “liberated” and claimed that they had won the battle of Mariupol.

In a conversation he had with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during a televised meeting, Putin congratulated his defense minister as he “successfully completed the combat effort to liberate Mariupol.”

“Let me congratulate you on this occasion, and please convey my congratulations to the troops,” Putin told Shoigu.

After this exchange, Putin ordered Shoigu to cancel a supposed plan to storm the Azov Iron and Steel Works complex as he viewed it as an “unnecessary” undertaking. While he canceled the final attack to wipe out the remaining Ukrainian Forces in the complex, he also said it was necessary to block off the area so “not even a fly can get through.”  This would in effect result in starving the remaining defenders and the unknown number of civilians hiding in tunnels under the complex into final submission.

Putin possibly thinks that there is no need to storm the steel complex as the Ukrainians inside may run out of food and water in the coming days, which may leave them no choice but to surrender. Russia’s military has also taken staggering casualties and their inability to take this complex suggests they anticipate considerable losses trying to wrest the steelworks from the remaining defenders. This comes after Russia demanded that the Ukrainian forces surrender or face death at the hands of the Russian troops. It also follows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s announcement that if Russia decides to storm the steel mill, the peace talks would be canceled and at an effective dead end.

“I want to say that the elimination of our army, our guys, will put an end to all negotiations,” Zelensky said. “That will be an impasse as we don’t negotiate neither our territories nor our people.”

Following the non-compliance to multiple surrender deadlines set by the Russians, the Ukrainian forces orchestrated a counter-attack on the Russians using underground tunnels that ran across the steel mill. The Ukrainians’ refusal to surrender despite being outnumbered and surrounded by the Russians is slowly becoming a symbol of Ukrainian pride around the world. It emphasizes that they would rather die than surrender to the Russians.

Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Oleksiy Arestovych, in response to Putin claiming his “victory,” said that the Russians could not physically take Azovstal as the Russian forces have taken a huge amount of losses trying to take it.

The Azovstal Iron and Steel Works Complex, the only area that remains in Ukrainian control. The Azov Regiment and the 36th Marine Brigade currently hold the area (Illia Ponomarenko). Source:
The Azovstal Iron and Steel Works Complex is the only area that remains in Ukrainian control. The Azov Regiment and the 36th Marine Brigade currently hold the area (Illia Ponomarenko/Twitter)
Ukrainian troops in the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works complex. The source does not specify whether the troops in this photo are members of the Azov Regiment or the 36th Marine Battalion (Euromaidan PR). Source:
Ukrainian troops in the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works complex, Mariupol, Ukraine. The source does not specify whether the troops in this photo are members of the Azov Regiment or the 36th Marine Brigade (Euromaidan PR/Twitter).

While there are two narratives to the story, it remains that Ukrainian forces still hold the steel complex, with their fate left for time to tell as they are running low on supplies and ammunition. Furthermore, civilians are also taking shelter within the complex with the Ukrainian forces, which adds more to the Ukrainian government’s concern. Around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters still remain to fight, with 500 wounded. According to Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, some 1,000 civilians also remain trapped in the complex and need to be evacuated.

Because of these realities, Ukraine has offered to negotiate with Russia regarding the evacuation of its troops and civilians in Mariupol. This move was announced by Ukrainian Advisor to President Zelensky, Mykhailo Podolyak, through Twitter:

“Yes. Without any conditions. We’re ready to hold a “special round of negotiations” right in Mariupol. One on one. Two on two. To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living & the wounded. Everyone. Because they are ours. Because they are in my heart. Forever.”

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Furthermore, Ukrainian Presidential Adviser David Arakhamia said they talked to the Ukrainian troops inside the steel complex. He said that there was a proposal to hold negotiations to evacuate the remaining civilians and troops in Mariupol.

“For our part, we are ready to arrive for such negotiations at any time as soon as we receive confirmation from the Russian side,” he added.

The supposed “victory” for the Russians would possibly be used as propaganda back in Moscow. They previously claimed that Mariupol was the capital of the Azov Battalion, a far-right nationalist group that is currently defending its positions inside the steel complex.

The city of Mariupol has suffered tremendous casualties and damage throughout the invasion. According to estimates, some 20,000 civilians have been killed by the Russians due to their constant shelling. Most of the port city on the Black Sea is destroyed at this point and taking it is of more symbolic importance to Russian than actual strategic value.

Devastating incidents which later became the symbol of Ukrainian suffering in international media were the Mariupol drama theater bombing and the bombing of a maternity hospital. These were later claimed by Russia to be staged. Evidence also showed that there were mass graves containing thousands of Ukrainians and that mobile cremation trucks were used to hide the dead civilians the Russians may have killed.

According to military analysts and SOFREP as well, the Russians may be fast-tracking their so-called victories in Ukraine to celebrate the anniversary of the allied victory in Europe during World War II. It is traditional for the Russians to hold a military parade through the Red Square every May 9th, which may be the projected end date of the invasion if they complete their invasion goals.