Russia has claimed victory in the key port city of Mariupol after an almost two-month long attack, despite an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian troops still holding firm in a steel plant.
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu today said it would take “three to four days” to defeat the final Ukrainian troops at the Azovstal steel plant, however Vladimir Putin said during a televised conversation that he should only blockade the factory and not attack those inside.
Ukrainian official Oleksiy Arestovych said Putin’s declaration of victory in Mariupol is too premature and that fighting will continue, while US President Joe Biden called Putin’s claim “questionable”.
Arestovych said: “They cannot physically take Azovstal, they have understood – they have experienced huge losses there.
“Our defenders are continuing to hold on to it. These preliminary announcements of victories … show that the Russians have become aware of the futility of their latest active operation at this stage of the war.
Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukrainian deputy Prime Minister, said there were also hundreds of civilians in the plant and called for “an urgent humanitarian corridor” to evacuate them.
“I call on world leaders and the international community to focus their efforts on Azovstal now,” she said.
The South-East port city in the Donbas region has faced a seven-week onslaught from Russian troops, leading to the mass destruction of the city.
The Ukrainian government has estimated that tens of thousands of civilians have died due to indiscriminate Russian shelling and deliberate blockades of potential routes to safety.
A Russian takeover of Mariupol would be the largest military victory for Putin in the first two months of the war, after his invasion was met with far sterner resistance by Ukrainian forces than expected.
Moscow has now launched a new offensive in the Donbas region, which has seen Russian troops diverted from outside Kyiv and other areas around the country.