The people of Mariupol, Ukraine, a city that was founded by Greeks and where many ethnic Greeks still live, were under siege and without electricity, heat, water or sewer service on Thursday as the port awaited its fate after the Russian invasion.
The beautiful city on the shores of the Sea of Azov is considered a key area for the Russians, who clearly are targeting the area. The city underwent shelling a week ago, with ten ethnic Greeks killed.
Now, the overall situation has deteriorated yet again as the 400,000 residents of the city have no heat, water or power, and as French President issued a disturbing warning that the “worst is yet to come” for their country, after the most recent talks he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mariupol besieged; part of land bridge linking Odessa, Kherson to the west
A senior French official was quoted as saying said Macron’s new comments came after the two leaders spoke for 90 minutes, in which there was no progress made, according to the Washington Post.
Quite the contrary, as the Russian strongman was determined to continue fighting in Ukraine until “the end,” the report stated.
Putin told the French president that his country’s goals in the beleaguered country would be “fulfilled,” insisting that the war was proceeding “according to plan,” Reuters reports, citing a statement that was issued by the Kremlin.
The Russian statement said “It was confirmed that, first of all, we are talking about the demilitarization and neutral status of Ukraine, so that a threat to the Russian Federation will never emanate from its territory.”
After nearly a week of what appeared almost to be a stalemate in Ukraine, Russia captured its first major city, Kherson, on Wednesday.
Western officials have repeatedly warned that Russia’s bogging down in Ukraine may lead to a decision to move even more aggressively in the country.
Meanwhile, a second round of talks between Russia and Ukraine are supposed to be taking place on Thursday.
Officials in Mariupol are now warning of a “critical” situation for the inhabitants of the port city while heavy shelling continues.
The Russian assault on Mariupol comes as its forces appear to have conquered Kherson, on the Black Sea. The mayor of Kherson told the press that Russian forces had finally seized control of the city, which has approximately 300,000 residents.
The military advance in the south of the country appears to indicate that Russia is attempting to create a land corridor linking the other key port city of Odessa in the west, through Kherson and all the way to Mariupol on the Azov.
Sergei Orlov, Mariupol’s deputy mayor told CNN that the city was “surrounded” by Russian forces, with its populace in desperate need of not only military but humanitarian aid as well.
“Our Ukrainian army and National Guard is very brave, they stand and fight for Ukraine, for Mariupol. But the situation is quite critical,” Orlov said today.
Orlov warned that Mariupol was facing a humanitarian crisis after what he said had been 26 hours of continued shelling.
“They are destroying our city with all weapons, from artillery, from airplane bombing, from tactical rockets, from multiple launch rocket systems,” Orlov said.
“We do not have electricity in the whole city, we do not have water supplies, we do not have sanitary systems, we do not have heating.
“We are asking for help, for military help, and we are waiting for military help,” Orlov said. “Our internal forces are very brave, but we are surrounded by the Russian army, which has more people in their army.”
After the 90-minute long telephone conversation between the leaders of France and Russia, a source in the Elysee Palace told reporters that Putin had told Macron that he had every intention of continuing his military operation.
“Without making a prediction, we should expect the worst is yet to come. The (French) President said so yesterday as well. There is nothing in what Putin said today that should reassure us,” the source said, according to Reuters.
The Russian leader did say that he was available for negotiations but he made it clear that any discussion must occur under the conditions of a neutralized and disarmed Ukraine, the source added.
Putin added that if Ukraine leader Zelensky wanted to talk, he must act right away, and if Ukrainians do not accept the Russian conditions, Putin himself will obtain the same result by military means, the source stated. The Russian leader then denied that it was his country that bombarded Kyiv, warning that the situation in the country might become even worse — but that it was Ukraine’s fault, not his, the source said.
French officials now believe that Russia intends is to take all of Ukraine, the source added.
Mariupol mayor Vadym Boichenko charged that Russia had created a “humanitarian catastrophe” in a post on his Telegram account Thursday.
“These scum have found no other way to break us. They are blocking the supply and repair of electricity, water and heat. They have also damaged the railways. They have destroyed bridges and smashed trains so that we can’t evacuate women, children and the elderly out of Mariupol,” he declared
“They are blocking food supplies, blocking us like in former Leningrad (during World War II), deliberately destroying the city’s critical life-support infrastructure for seven days. Again, we have no light, water or heat.”
He said that his fellow city employees were “working with international institutions to create a ‘green corridor’ for the humanitarian mission” and also asking for a ceasefire so that electricity at least can be restored, according to CNN.
The Russian military had announced they were about to advance on the Mariupol region on Thursday morning.
“The units of the armed forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic narrowed the encirclement of the city of Mariupol, and also took control of the settlements of Vinogradnoye, Sartaka and Vodyanoye,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman, said in a video briefing. He repeated claims the military was not targeting civilian areas in Ukraine.
Just one day earlier, Konashenkov had issued an order stipulating how people living in Mariupol could exit the city, saying “All civilians wishing to leave Mariupol, for security purposes, can go east along the Mariupol-Shirokino (Shyrokyne) road.”
Mariupol mayor Orlov told CNN that Russian shelling had targeted a number of civilian buildings, including homes, kindergartens and schools, but he had no way of knowing how many people had been killed.
“We do not know how many, because we cannot collect all the bodies and we cannot count (them),” Orlov said.
The tension in the port city “remains difficult,” admitted a spokesperson for the Ukrainian National Guard in an interview with CNN, while he assured his listeners that the battle is far from over.
“Soldiers of the National Guard of Ukraine, together with the Armed Forces, continue to defend the city,” the spokesperson stated, adding “The Ukrainian military is not going to surrender the city and will strike at the occupying forces. The military will also continue to destroy enemy sabotage groups on the outskirts of Mariupol.”
The Greek-founded port city lies just to the west of the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine that has been under the rule of Russian-backed separatists since 2014. Russia officially recognized the breakaway statelets of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in the Donbas last month.
Meanwhile on Thursday, a cargo ship has sunk in the Black Sea off the Ukrainian port of Odessa after an explosion, the vessel’s manager has said.
The Estonian-owned cargo ship Helt sunk on Thursday as Russian forces continued their invasion of Ukraine, which has seen increasing military activity in the Black Sea.
Two crew members were in a life raft at sea while four others were unaccounted for, Igor Ilves, managing director of Tallinn-based Vista Shipping Agency said. The company is not aware of the life raft’s whereabouts.
“The vessel has finally sunk,” Mr Ilves said. “Two of the crew are in a raft on the water and four others are missing. I don’t know where they are at the moment.” He said the vessel might have struck a mine.
The website Maritime Bulletin website reported on Wednesday that the Helt had been captured by Russian naval forces and was being used as a shield, although this could not be confirmed.
Also on Thursday, Ukrainian military officials warned that a group of Russian amphibious landing vessels was heading toward the port city of Odessa on the Black Sea.