Ukrainian forces are holding out amid heavy fighting in the besieged southern city of Mariupol, but the humanitarian situation has become more dire, with much of the infrastructure destroyed and few ways out, local officials said.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Thursday that Ukrainian forces are still facing a very difficult battle. Russian forces have bombed the city for weeks with attacks that prevented a large-scale evacuation and made it difficult to obtain information.
Russian-backed separatists claimed on Thursday that they had captured the city center, but there was no evidence to support that assertion, and local officials and Western military analysts said the city was still in Ukraine’s hands.
“Ukrainian armed forces are doing everything they can to liberate the city, but it is very complicated,” Ms Maliar said, adding that officials believe the Russian military plans to use Mariupol as a springboard to take control of other areas.
The city government operates from another city, Zaporizhia, about 130 miles northwest of Mariupol, and officials acknowledged it was difficult to get a full picture of the fighting. But Pyotr Andryushenko, an adviser to the city government, said the city’s military situation has remained stagnant in recent weeks amid fierce fighting.
“It is difficult because we are not physically in Mariupol,” he said, adding that officials were relying partly on photos released by Russian forces and also in contact with people still in the city.
Sharing information can make those sources targets. “It is very dangerous for those who remained,” said Mr. Andryushenko.
Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, Lyudmila Denisova, said in a statement posted on Telegram on Thursday, that the men They were forcibly recruited into pro-Russian militias in the occupied areas on the outskirts of Mariupol.
Thousands of civilians find their way out, being intermittently evacuated by special vehicles through dangerous checkpoints and along perilous roads. But nearly 130,000 people remain, according to local officials.
The city is deepening even deeper into a humanitarian crisis, with limited access to food, water and electricity, and scattered or unsafe options for escape. Andryushenko said that it was impossible to repair critical infrastructure.
Yulia Gorbunova, author of a Human Rights Watch report on alleged Russian war crimes earlier in the conflict, said she fears what happened in Bucha, a Kyiv suburb where dozens of civilians were found dead after the Russians withdrew, could amplify in Mariupol. .
“I can’t stop thinking about what we’ll see in Mariupol,” she said. “We were looking for villages with a few thousand people.”
Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko said Wednesday that since the siege began last month, Russian forces have destroyed most of the city’s infrastructure and more than 5,000 people have been killed. On a virtual round table.
Andriyushenko said a Russian video of medical staff and patients leaving the last working hospital in Mariupol confirmed reports that the staff had been moved to a Russian-controlled area, rather than being allowed into Ukrainian territory.
“We have a lot of information, and we know everything that is happening in the city,” he said, adding that officials were monitoring the skewed coverage of Russian state television to get visual confirmation of the reports from the ground.
Russian media published pictures of Russian forces providing humanitarian aid to civilians in a supermarket. The pictures show aid boxes decorated with the letters A . “Z” invasion support symboland the hashtag in Russian translates to “We don’t leave ours.”
Last month , Satellite images showed hundreds of people lining up in the same storelocated in an industrial area on the western outskirts of the city, which for some time was controlled by Russian forces.
“The Russians tried to provide some food for our people,” said Mr. Andryushenko. He admitted that he was happy to see people getting much-needed supplies, but that they were likely to be taken from Ukrainian warehouses in occupied areas.
“All these humanitarian goods are made in Ukraine – and they say it’s Russian,” he said.
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