The war will not have marked any truce in Ukraine, despite Palm Sunday, celebrated this Sunday, April 17: a week before the Orthodox Easter. The start of Holy Week has not suspended the bombardment of Kharkiv, the country’s second city, in the east, and that of Mariupol in the southeast, large parts of which are now under Russian control. . The defenders of the port city, entrenched in the underground network of the huge Azovstal steelworks, refused to surrender, despite an ultimatum which expired at 1 p.m. local time on Sunday.
Occupation in preparation
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked his men to ” hold on “ despite the Russian superiority and to do everything to protect the port of Mariupol. “Sabotage the occupiers’ orders.” Don’t cooperate with them.” he commanded them. Undaunted, the Russians are poised to seize this key position along the Sea of Azov to connect the Donbass region, partly controlled by their supporters, to Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
→ ANALYSIS. War in Ukraine: Mariupol, strategic target of the Russians
Everything indicates that the Kremlin is preparing a long-term occupation of this part of Ukraine. The takeover of the administrations and the introduction of the Russian language by force testify to its desire to establish both cultural and linguistic domination in this region. Another sign: the very rapid relief of conventional forces by the national guard (including Chechens), specialized in zone control, disciplined and experienced in managing crowd movements.
Images broadcast from the south of the city and the port area confirm the presence of Russian forces since April 16. They would already have control of 90% of the eastern part, despite the denials of the Ukrainian general staff. In a defensive position, the Ukrainian soldiers are folded up on the west side, in the 12 km2 metallurgical complex which also houses many civilians, 80 meters underground. These soldiers, members of the 36th Marine Brigade or the Azov Regiment, seem determined to stage a final battle, even in the face of overwhelming firepower.
3,000 Ukrainian soldiers
This weekend, the Tu-22M3 strategic bombers continued to drop their bombs without this leading to the surrender of the resistance, of which there are also some pockets left outside the factory. They would still be 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers fighting inside Mariupol.
→ READ. In Ukraine, the desperate defense of Mariupol
“The 503and Ukrainian naval infantry battalion managed on April 13 to exfiltrate from the Iliych factory in the north of the city to join the central pocket of resistance held by the 36and naval infantry brigade and the Azov regiment. Two other small pockets resist to the west of the city and in the port (12and National Guard Brigade)”details the former colonel and historian Michel Goya, on his blog, on April 16.
A Russian victory for May 9?
For the moment, “the city did not fall”Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Chmyhal told the American channel ABC on Sunday April 17. “Our military forces, our soldiers are still there. They will fight until the end. » After supply problems, the Ukrainian forces seem to have been resupplied at night by helicopters. How long will they last? “Russian forces will likely complete the capture of Mariupol within the next week, but the latest assaults will continue to cost them dearly,” consider Mason Clark and George Barros in their analysis of Sunday April 17 for the Institute for the Study of War.
→ EXPLANATION. Mariupol, a Greek and Russian port that has become the industrial heart of Ukraine
Moscow would thus have enough to celebrate a military victory on May 9, an important day of commemoration in Russia which marks the anniversary of the capitulation of Nazi Germany in 1945. But not yet enough to savor a triumph without the complete capture of the two oblasts of Donbass, in the East, and of the two oblasts of Kherson and Zaporijjia, in the South: the barely veiled objective of the great shift and reorganization of Russian forces from north to east.
The issue of prisoners
Russia and Ukraine are in their fourth exchange of prisoners since the start of the conflict. According to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, Moscow is detaining 1,000 civilians and 700 Ukrainian soldiers. kyiv reportedly captured 700 Russian soldiers.
Russian public television on Monday (April 18) broadcast calls from two prisoners, identified as British, asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson to negotiate their release.
The Ukrainian security services (SBU) for their part published the same day a video of MP and businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, close to Vladimir Putin, asking to be ” exchange “ against the soldiers and civilians of Mariupol.