Ukraine port city Mariupol blockaded by Russian forces

Ukraine port city Mariupol blockaded by Russian forces post thumbnail image

KYIV (AFP) – Invading Russian troops have blockaded the strategic Ukrainian port city Mariupol, its mayor announced on Saturday (March 5), as Moscow and Kyiv aimed to hold new talks over the weekend.

While laying siege to Mariupol for days, Russian forces also cut its electricity, food, water, heating and transportation in the depths of winter, prompting comparisons to the Nazi blockade of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in World War II.

“For now, we are looking for solutions to humanitarian problems and all possible ways to get Mariupol out of the blockade,” said mayor Vadim Boychenko. He called for a ceasefire and a humanitarian corridor for food and medicine.

Since President Vladimir Putin’s army invaded on Feb 24, Russia has pummelled Ukrainian cities, killed hundreds of civilians and assaulted Europe’s largest atomic power plant.

The invasion has drawn condemnation and severe sanctions from Western nations balancing punishment of the Kremlin with fears of a hazardous escalation.

Moscow has seized two key cities in its 10-day-long invasion, Berdiansk and Kherson on Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coast.

But capturing Mariupol, a city of about 450,000 people on the Azov Sea, would represent a bigger prize for Russian forces as it would deal a severe blow to Ukraine’s maritime access and connect troops coming from occupied Crimea and the Donbas.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said late on Friday that Moscow was waiting for a third round of talks with Ukraine in Belarus, and one of Kyiv’s negotiators said it hoped to hold them this weekend.

“The third leg could take place tomorrow or the day after, we are in constant contact,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Friday.

As Russia bombed cities across the country, the Ukrainian military said on Facebook that Moscow’s main focus was to encircle Kyiv.

In a hospital in the Ukrainian capital, wounded soldiers told AFP of their grim battle against the Russian advance, and vowed to return to the frontline.

“We were on reconnaissance and came across an enemy column that had made a breakthrough,” said Motyka, 29, who was hit by shrapnel on his right side.

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