The siege of Mariupol

Russia on Thursday claimed to have taken control of the strategic Ukrainian port of Mariupol after more than seven weeks of fighting that reduced most of the besieged city to rubble.

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“Mariupol has been liberated,” Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin during a televised meeting.

Around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are continuing to hold out at their last redoubt, the sprawling Azovstal steelworks, he said.

Located on the Sea of Azov, the city has been a key prize for Russia in its bid to join up the annexed Crimea peninsula to the west with territory held by pro-Russian rebels in the east.

On March 2, a week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moscow’s artillery begins pounding Mariupol, a predominantly Russian-speaking city of 441,000 inhabitants some 55 kilometres (35 miles) from the Russian border and 85 kilometres from the pro-Russia separatist stronghold of Donetsk.

The mayor accuses Russian forces and pro-Russian fighters of seeking to “impose a blockade” by cutting off food supplies and vital infrastructure, including water, electricity and heating.

On March 9, Russia targets a building housing a maternity ward and paediatric hospital in Mariupol, killing three, including a young girl.

Ukraine and the European Union condemn a “war crime.” Russia claims the building is sheltering Ukrainian nationalists.

Mid-March sees the start of the evacuation of thousands of civilians from the city through a humanitarian corridor.

Earlier evacuation attempts had collapsed with both sides accusing the other of failing to halt fire.

On March 16, Russian airstrikes raze a theatre sheltering around 1,000 people, mostly women and children. It takes days to reach survivors trapped in an underground shelter.

On March 21, Kyiv rejects a first Russian ultimatum to Ukrainian forces in the city to surrender.

Civilians who manage to escape in their own vehicles describe a “freezing hellscape riddled with dead bodies and destroyed buildings,” Human Rights Watch says.

The Ukrainian government sends 45 buses to bring people to safety.

On April 4, Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko says the city has been “90 percent” destroyed.

– Claims of hiding evidence –

On April 6, Zelensky says Russia is blocking humanitarian access to Mariupol because it wants to hide evidence of “thousands” of people killed there.

On April 7, the new “mayor” of Mariupol, Konstantin Ivashchenko, installed by pro-Russian forces, says that around 5,000 civilians have died.

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