Russian shelling and siege tactics have devastated Mariupol’s residential neighborhoods, drone video published Wednesday by Ukraine’s far-right Azov Battalion revealed. The video was verified by The Washington Post.
Amid a communication blackout, the Azov Battalion has been one of the few sources of videos and information coming out of the city that has served as its primary base for years. The paramilitary group with ties to extremists across Europe has been fighting for Ukraine since 2014, when it was absorbed into Ukraine’s national guard. Its presence has been used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to falsely claim that the Ukrainian government is run by neo-Nazis.
Apartments, markets and a public school were among the buildings in the city’s Livoberezhnyi district that were hit, according to Google Maps. The overview showed an approximately two-mile stretch along the coastal line.
Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov, has been under siege from Russian forces for nearly three weeks. Thousands of people have been killed by the fighting, according to local authorities. A week ago, a Mariupol theater where hundreds of civilians sheltered was hit by a Russian airstrike.
A Wednesday assessment of the conflict by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said Russian progress in taking the city “remains slow and grinding.” Moscow is turning to air, artillery and rocket and missile bombardments of cities across Ukraine to offset the lack of momentum by troops on the ground.
The Kremlin’s forces this week started shelling Mariupol from the sea, according to the Pentagon, with up to seven Russian warships based in the Sea of Azov in the city’s immediate south. Mariupol’s capture would be Moscow’s first strategic victory in the war, and it would help free up troops for other Russian targets, such as seizing the capital, Kyiv. It would also give Russia a land corridor connecting territories under its control.
Efforts to rescue civilians have taken on new urgency since Ukrainian leaders refused Moscow’s demand that the city surrender. Some 100,000 remained trapped as of late Tuesday — from a prewar population of about 430,000 — many without adequate food, water or medicines. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the conditions as “inhumane.”
The last international journalists reporting from Mariupol, Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka of the Associated Press, left the city last week after Ukrainian forces told them they were being targeted by the Russians. While there, they reported on mass graves filling up with the bodies of children, the desperate plight of hungry residents and the destruction of a maternity hospital.