Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that Mariupol, which has been under siege for nearly two months, has not yet fallen to Russian forces despite defying a Sunday deadline for the devastated port city to surrender.
The city of Mariupol has gained international attention in part due to the vast documentation of its nonstop destruction at the hands of the Russian military. The shell of a city appeared on the brink of falling to the Russians on Sunday after Ukrainian defenders did not submit to Moscow’s midday deadline for their surrender, but Shmyhal maintained that the city still belongs to Ukraine.
“No, [the] city still has not fallen. There is still our military forces, our soldiers, so they will fight to the end. As for now, they still are in Mariupol,” he told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”
“But there is [a] huge humanitarian catastrophe because there is more than 100 civilians which are suffering for more than 40 days of this humanitarian crisis … in this besieged city,” he continued. “And they have no water, no food, no heat, no electricity. And we ask all of our partners to support and help to stop this humanitarian catastrophe in Mariupol.”
Mariupol has been under relentless attack by Russian forces that pounded most of the buildings and, according to Ukraine, killed at least 21,000 people. Russian military fired a lethal airstrike at a maternity hospital in the first couple of weeks of the invasion, and about 300 Ukrainians were reported killed in a theater where civilians, including children, were taking shelter.
The city was home to about 450,000 before Russia invaded. An estimated 100,000 now remain, according to The Associated Press. The Russian military claims that about 2,500 Ukrainian fighters are holding out at a steel plant in the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol. That claim could not be independently verified.
This is “what the Russian Federation did, deliberately did. And deliberately continues to destroy cities. Russia is deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there in Mariupol,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday in a virtual address, adding that the situation in the port city remains as “severe as possible” and that the devastation is “just inhuman.”
Capturing Mariupol would be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s biggest victory in Ukraine after two months of costly fighting, major military deaths and forced withdrawal from some cities, as well as a worsening economy in Russia from increasing Western sanctions. The nuclear superpower also recently faced the humiliating loss of the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet to what Ukraine claimed was a missile attack.
Russia’s potential seizure of Mariupol would allow Putin to secure a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula — which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014 — and deprive the smaller country of a major port. The seizure would also allow more Russian troops to be available for the offensive on the east.
Shmyhal said Sunday that Ukraine will try to stop the war “in any way,” including diplomatically when possible. But if Russians refuse to negotiate in good faith, “we will fight to the end, absolutely.”
“We will not surrender. We won’t leave our country, our families, our land,” he continued. “So we will fight absolutely to the end, to win in this war.”