74th day of the war in Ukraine: fierce fighting in Mariupol

The Russian military is said to be scrambling to seize control of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in a bid to claim a symbolic victory ahead of Victory Day celebrations on May 9.

So far, Ukrainian forces have only resisted at a single point in Mariupol, the Azovstal Steel Plant. Captain Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov battalion entrenched at the Azovstal plant, said in an online press conference on May 8 that the site suffered three attacks by fighter jets, Russian artillery and tanks overnight.

“We’re under constant fire,” he said, adding that Russian infantry tried to storm the factory to lay mines, a claim Russian officials denied. Palamar said there were “numerous casualties” at the facility.

Smoke rises from the site of the Azovstal Steelworks in the city of Mariupol on April 29.  Photo: AFP.

Smoke rises from the site of the Azovstal Steelworks in the city of Mariupol on April 29. Picture: AFP.

Lieutenant Ilya Samoilenko, another member of the Azov battalion, said “several hundred” soldiers were wounded, but he refused to say how many were still holed up at the Azovstal facility.

He described the situation as dire because they had no rescue equipment in their tunnels.

“No one expected us to hold out for so long,” said Samoilenko. “Giving up is unacceptable for us because we cannot give the other such a gift.”

Meanwhile, thanks to a humanitarian corridor coordinated by the United Nations and the International Red Cross, all the women, children and elderly people hiding at the Azovstal steelworks have been successfully evacuated.

After rescuers evacuated the last of the civilians from the steel plant, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was trying to secure other humanitarian corridors for residents of Mariupol and nearby towns to evacuate.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today made a surprise visit to the city, which has been badly damaged by Russian efforts to control Kyiv in the first phase of Moscow’s special military operation, according to Ukrainian media Suspilne and Irpin Mayor Olexander Markushyn.

Mr Markushyn has posted pictures of Trudeau on social media and said the Canadian leader was “shocked” by the damage he saw.

Canadian officials said Trudeau will meet with President Zelenskyy to “reaffirm Canada’s unwavering support for the Ukrainian people.”

On the same day, US First Lady Jill Biden also paid a surprise visit to western Ukraine after a four-day visit to Romania and Slovakia. She had a meeting with the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska. Two people visit a school that has been converted into a shelter for Ukrainian refugees.

Elsewhere, on the Ukrainian coast, blasts continued in the port city Odesa over the Black Sea, which was attacked by Russia on May 7 with six cruise missiles.

In a sign of Ukraine’s fierce resistance as fighting entered the 11th week, the country’s troops attacked Russian positions on the outpost. Zmiinyi in the Black Sea, which Russian forces have controlled since the earliest days of the conflict.

News agency satellite photos AP Analysis shows that Ukraine is targeting Zmiinyi Island to thwart Russia’s efforts to control its waters.

A satellite image taken by Planet Labs PBC on the morning of May 8 shows smoke billowing from two locations on the island. A large fire burned alongside the rubble on the southern edge of the island. This corresponds to a video released by the Ukrainian military showing them attacking a Russian helicopter flying to the island.

Ukrainian troops retreated from the city Popasna of Lugansk province, Donbass region, eastern Ukraine, regional governor of the Ukrainian government Serhiy Gaidai said today. In a video interview posted on his personal Telegram channel, Mr Gaidai said that the Ukrainian army “moved to stronger positions that it prepared in advance”.

Meanwhile, Rodion Miroshnik, the self-proclaimed separatist representative of the Lugansk People’s Republic, claimed his troops and the Russian army had controlled most of Popasna after two months of bitter fighting.

The site of the after-school destruction in the village of Bilohorivka, Lugansk was attacked on May 8.  Photo: Reuters.

The site of the after-school destruction in the village of Bilohorivka, Lugansk was attacked on May 8. Picture: Reuters.

Governor Gaidai today also accused Russian forces of dropping bombs on a school in the village of Bilohorivka on the afternoon of May 7 when about 90 people were sheltering there. Gaidai said the blast caused a fire that engulfed the school.

“The fire was extinguished after almost 4 hours. The bodies of two people were found,” Governor Gaidai wrote on Telegram.

Gaidai said 30 people were evacuated, seven of whom were injured. He feared as many as 60 people were likely killed under the rubble.

The Russian side has not yet responded to the information.

The heaviest fighting in recent days took place in eastern Ukraine. According to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, a Ukrainian counteroffensive near Kharkov, the second-largest city in northeastern Ukraine, “is making significant progress and is likely to return to the border with Russia in the next few days or weeks.”

The institute said the counterattack shows Ukraine’s “promising” ability to reverse the situation, it assessed.

The military situation in Ukraine after 11 weeks of fighting.  Graphic: Washington Post.

The military situation in Ukraine after 11 weeks of fighting. Graphic: Washington Post.

Vu Hoang (Corresponding AFP, AP, Reuters, CNN)