Day 87 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Russia declares Full Control of Mariupol, Gas Cut to Finland, Zelensky sees a Diplomatic End

World » UKRAINE | May 21, 2022, Saturday // 14:16
Bulgaria: Day 87 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Russia declares Full Control of Mariupol, Gas Cut to Finland, Zelensky sees a Diplomatic End @Euractiv

Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:

Russia has declared full control of Mariupol

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said his country's forces had established full control of the Mariupol metallurgical plant, the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the city, world agencies reported.

That would mark the end of a nearly three-month siege that has left much of Mariupol in ruins, with fears that more than 20,000 people have died. Most of the city's pre-war 400,000 population has fled in recent weeks.

Yesterday, Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin that the Azovstal plant and the whole of Mariupol were "completely liberated."

Russia's state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that as of May 16, a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters who had been blocked at Azovstal had laid down their arms, including 531 yesterday, who according to Moscow, were the last defenders of the plant.

"The territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant has been completely liberated," the Russian Defense Ministry said. "The underground facilities of the plant where the Ukrainian fighters were hiding are now under the full control of the Russian armed forces."

The ministry released a video that allegedly shows the surrender of Ukrainians. On it, unarmed men approached a line of Russian soldiers in front of the plant and announce their names. The Russians then carefully searched each of them and their belongings and asked the defenders to show off their tattoos.

So far, there is no confirmation from Ukraine that Mariupol has fallen.

The fall of the city would mean Russia's biggest victory since the start of the war.

Russian attacks on the city began shortly after the conflict broke out.

As Russian troops gradually gained control of the strategic city near the Sea of ​​Azov through constant bombing and blockades, the last defenders of Mariupol took refuge in Azovstal, which has an underground network of bunkers and tunnels. They did not have enough water, food, medicine and ammunition.

Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a statement tantamount to admitting defeat. He announced that the two-month battle for the last remaining unconquered part of Azovstal was over, paving the way for the capture of Ukrainian troops by the Russians.

The first 264 of them surrendered on Monday, including more than 50 seriously injured. According to Russia, more were captured on Thursday, but commanders and some other fighters continued to defend their positions.

Yesterday, however, the remaining Ukrainian defenders at the plant decided that there was no point in continuing to fight, according to a video message from Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Regiment of the National Guard of Ukraine.

"The army command has ordered the defense of the city to be suspended," Prokopenko said, adding that the decision was made to protect the lives and health of soldiers.

Yesterday, hours before Russia announced full control of the city, Zelensky said defenders had been told by the Ukrainian army to come out and save their lives.

According to him, the Ukrainian Air Force tried to provide air supply to Mariupol but was repulsed, suffering heavy losses.

"Unfortunately, a large number of our pilots died," Zelensky said on Ukrainian television. "These were heroes in the full sense of the word, who knew it was hard, that it was almost impossible to fly there, to transport food, water and medicine by air to Azovstal, and to return the wounded and the bodies of the dead."

Ukrainian Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said the plant's defense would be studied in military schools for years to come. People inside did not have fresh water and had only one meal a day, he said.

The Kremlin has not said what comes next for the captives. Kyiv has offered to exchange them for Russians in Ukrainian captivity, although some in Moscow have called for them to be treated as criminals and tried.

Moscow considers the Azov Regiment "Nazis". The unit, which was formed in 2014 as a militia to fight pro-Russian separatists, denies being fascist, and Ukraine says it has reformed its original radical nationalist views.

Russia had focused on Mariupol because capturing the city would help create a corridor between the annexed Crimean peninsula and pro-Russian separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has stopped gas flow to Finland

Russia's natural gas supplies to Finland were cut off on Saturday, Finland's state energy company Gasum said after the Scandinavian country refused to pay Gazprom in rubles.

"Natural gas supplies to Finland under the Gasum supply contract have been suspended," Gasum said in a statement, adding that natural gas would instead be supplied from other sources through the Balticconnector pipeline, which connects Finland with Estonia.

"The end will be diplomatic"

Only diplomacy can end the war in Ukraine”, President Volodymyr Zelensky assured today, quoted by AFP. The agency notes that negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow are now at a dead end.

"The end (of the conflict) will be diplomatic. (The war) will be bloody, there will be battles, but it will end diplomatically," Zelensky said in an interview with Ukrainian television.

The Ukrainian president argued that "there are things we can only achieve at the negotiating table." "We want everything to return as before (the war) - something that (however) Russia does not want," he added, without going into details.

Earlier this week, Zelensky's adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Ukraine would not accept any ceasefire until all Russian troops had withdrawn. According to him, the situation on the ground has changed, but Russia does not understand this.

In response, the Kremlin accused Kyiv of "complete unwillingness" to negotiate.

Several rounds of talks between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations since the start of the war on February 24 have failed. According to Russian media, the chief negotiators - Vladimir Medinsky for Russia and David Arakhamia for Ukraine - last met on April 22nd.

After failing to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, the Russian armed forces have focused on fully capturing the eastern Donbas region, where intense fighting is now taking place.

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