As Ukraine and the world await the imminent renewed Russian assault in eastern Ukraine, the battle for Mariupol rages on. After weeks of brutal fighting, the Russian military is poised to take the southern Ukrainian port city and finally achieve one of its primary objectives.
The Battle For Mariupol
For weeks now, Mariupol has defied the numerically superior and better equipped Russian forces. Using anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons supplied by the West, the Ukrainian defenders have exacted a heavy price from the Russian forces for every city block they had to concede.
The Russian military chose a strategy of destruction, bombing everything and reducing the once prosperous port city to piles of rubble. Ukrainian officials estimate that more than 20,000 people have been killed by Russian fire.
Day by day, the Russians advanced and captured more of the city, eventually dividing the defenders into two pockets: the port and the Azovstal iron and steelworks factory.
Over the weekend, the commander of the Russian forces issued a bleak ultimatum to the remaining Ukrainian defenders: surrender or die.
The Ukrainian forces had to respond to the ultimatum by 6 a.m. local time. Keeping up with the fighting spirit they have displayed so far, the Ukrainian defenders have chosen to reject the Russian ultimatum and fight to the death.
They Chose Immortality
But perhaps it was the Philippine Foreign Minister Teddy Locsin Jr. who captured the Ukrainian defenders’ decision the best.
“Told to choose between surrender and death, the encircled Ukrainian soldiers have chosen immortality. This resonates with all of us. Malraux said that courage is another fatherland to which belong all of the brave on all sides of all fights,” the Philippine official said on a Tweet.
In a lot of ways, the Russian ultimatum is empty, as the Russians have shown that they cannot be trusted to keep any promises. In Mariupol specifically, they violated agreements on humanitarian corridors multiple times.
Moreover, the Russian military has shown an abhorrent disregard for the lives of Ukrainian civilians, committing war crimes and other atrocities across Ukraine. So when a Russian commander demands your surrender, you are definitely thinking twice about what that means.
According to an investigative piece by the British publication iNews, the Russian military has relocated Ukrainian civilians who lived in Mariupol and were found hiding in bomb shelters to a former Russian military base 600 miles from the battlefield. But that base was used as a munitions dump for chemical weapons.
Granted, with tens of thousands of its men dead and wounded in Ukraine, the last thing that the Russian military has to worry about now is where to put displaced Ukrainian civilians. But the fact that the Kremlin is showing such a brazen disregard for the lives and health of civilians is in line with its horrific actions elsewhere in Ukraine.
Should Russian forces capture Mariupol, it will be their biggest conquest in terms of size and population; before the war, Mariupol had a population of almost half a million.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.