The Ministry of Defence (MoD) reports that Russian forces in Mariupol have continued their ground assault on the Azovstal steel plant for a second day and could be linked to a symbolic victory for Vladimir Putin.
It is being reported that President Vladimir Putin wants to present the Russian people with a major battlefield success in time for Victory Day on Monday, which marks the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany.
An intelligence update from the MoD states: “Russian forces in Mariupol have continued their ground assault on the Azovstal steel plant for a second day, despite Russian statements claiming they would seek only to seal it off.
"The renewed effort by Russia to secure Azovstal and complete the capture of Mariupol is likely linked to the upcoming 9 May Victory Day commemorations and Putin’s desire to have a symbolic success in Ukraine.
"This effort has come at personnel, equipment and munitions cost to Russia. Whilst Ukrainian resistance continues in Azovstal, Russian losses will continue to build and frustrate their operational plans in southern Donbas.”
Ukrainian fighters battling Russian forces in the tunnels beneath Mariupol’s immense steel plant are refusing to surrender in the face of relentless attacks.
The battle, in the last Ukrainian stronghold of the strategic port city reduced to ruins by the Russian onslaught, appeared increasingly desperate on Thursday.
“There are many wounded (fighters), but they are not surrendering,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late on Thursday in his nightly video address. “They are holding their positions.”
He said the attack was preventing the evacuation of remaining civilians.
“Just imagine this hell. And there are children there,” he said. “More than two months of constant shelling, bombing, constant death.”
The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that the Kremlin says is now its chief objective.
The Kremlin has demanded the troops surrender. They have refused. Russia has also accused them of preventing the civilians from leaving.
The head of the United Nations said another attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and the plant was underway. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “We must continue to do all we can to get people out of these hellscapes.”
More than 100 civilians were rescued from the steelworks over the weekend. But many previous attempts to open safe corridors from Mariupol have fallen through, with Ukraine blaming shelling and firing by the Russians.
“They won’t surrender,” Kateryna Prokopenko said after speaking by phone to her husband, a leader of the steel plant defenders. “They only hope for a miracle.”
She said her husband, Azov Regiment commander Denys Prokopenko, told her he would love her forever.
“I am going mad from this. It seemed like words of goodbye,” she said.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Russian forces are making only “plodding” progress in the Donbas