Ukrainian Marines at Free Mariupol Gird for ‘Hand-to-Hand Combat, Death, Captivity’

Russian forces decisively lost the battle for Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, and appear to be retooling and repositioning for an action that can be sold as a victory to the Russian public.

Houses damaged during fighting at eastern Mariupol April 8, 2022. AP/Alexei Alexandrov, file

KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian Marines at Mariupol — a city besieged — are preparing for an Alamo-like last stand against a combined Russian-Chechen force despite a dearth of ammunition, a lack of food, and, it now seems, a shortage of men.

More than 1,000 Ukrainian Marines have laid down their arms in surrender at Mariupol, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement earlier today. If true — and that is not clear at this writing — the encircled city could be facing its last gasp.

The city has been under siege since this conflict broke out on February 24. Today it stands in ruins. Russian forces, augmented by Chechen fighters sent by Grozny strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, have shelled the city with wanton disregard for human life.

The mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boychenko, estimates that more than 10,000 Mariupolians are dead and that the number could ultimately exceed 20,000. It may be years before the actual toll of Russia’s war on the civilian population is known.

Mr. Boychenko gave details in a telephone call to the Associated Press. Among them is that Russian forces are using mobile crematoriums to erase civilian victims of the Mariupol siege.

Mariupol is the last bastion on the Sea of Azov, the internal body of water that abuts the Black Sea. Both Russia and Ukraine border the Azov. It is a strategically significant city for both Moscow and Kyiv.

It is both the largest city in the Donetsk Oblast, one of Ukraine’s eastern regions, and host to one of Ukraine’s largest steel processing plants. The city is also the last obstacle to an uninterrupted land bridge between Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014.

Russian forces decisively lost the battle for Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, and appear to be retooling and repositioning for an action that can be sold as a victory to the Russian public.

Eastern Ukraine seems to be the next target in the Kremlin’s crosshairs. Russia may have scheduled a military parade in Mariupol for May 9, Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the mayor, said on his Telegram channel.

Mr. Andryushchenko added that “judging from the whole array of data, the occupiers are planning to hold a ‘victory carnival’ in Mariupol in case their ‘special operation’ is successful.” May 9 is the date Russia celebrates Victory Day in respect of World War II.

Mariupol’s stubborn and determined resistance, coupled with a newly appointed Russian military commander for Ukraine, have intensified and widened the attacks on the besieged city.

General Alexander Dvornikov, age 60, gained command experience in 2015 in Syria and, for his service there, garnered a Hero of the Russian Federation award, the highest honorary title of the Russian Federation.

Under his command, however, Russian soldiers in Syria are accused of bombing civilian infrastructure, including hospitals. And chemical weapons, which were used in the Syrian conflict, might have been used in Mariupol.

The Azov Battalion, a group with far-right ties that serves under the Ukrainian National Guard, claimed that several of its fighters had been injured in a chemical weapons attack on Monday.

The information could not be independently verified, though the Pentagon addressed the incident and called the possible use of chemical weapons in Mariupol “deeply disturbing.”

Video evidence appears to corroborate the Russian defense ministry’s statement. A recent video that circulated widely on social media depicted several columns of what appear to be dozens of Ukrainian Marines marching in formation, hands held in surrender.

Although the video indicates that at least some Marines have surrendered, it could not be independently verified. It does seem likely however that at least some of the Ukrainian Marine contingent chose to lay down their arms.

A Briton fighting with the Ukrainian Marines in Mariupol, Aiden Aslin, announced via Twitter that the fight was over for him. 

“It’s been 48 days, we tried our best to defend Mariupol but we have no choice but to surrender to Russian forces,” Mr. Aslin said. “We have no food and no ammunition. It’s been a pleasure everyone, I hope this war ends soon.”

While it may be true that a large contingent of Ukrainian Marines has surrendered, free Mariupol, for the moment, may still stand.

Maps published yesterday afternoon by the Institute for the Study of War, a defense and foreign affairs think tank that tracks this conflict, concluded that Mariupol “has not fallen.”

Mariupol is cut off from the Ukrainian mainland. And with Russian warships plying the waters off the coast, resupply and reinforcements are unlikely to materialize.

Two days ago, Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, which has fought at Mariupol since the beginning of this conflict, gave a status update via Facebook.

“We were bombed from planes, we were fired upon from artillery, tanks and other firearms,” the 36th explained. “We defended ourselves with dignity, doing the impossible. But any resources tend to run out.”

For more than a month, “the Marines fought without replenishment of ammunition, without food, without water… and died in packs,” they said. “The mountain of the wounded is almost half of the brigade.”

The post explained that they had been pushed back into a steel processing plant on the city’s eastern edge and that the enemy “surrounded us with fire and is now trying to destroy us.”

“We are written off. Today will probably be the last fight as there is no ammunition left,” the 36th wrote. “Further into hand-to-hand combat. Then for some death, and for some captivity.”


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