Russia changed signs, erected statues in Mariupol

Russian forces and separatists are changing road signs in areas they control in southern Ukraine, including the city of Mariupol.

The traffic administration of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) announced on May 5 that it would continue to replace road signs “in liberated areas” in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Signs in areas controlled by the DPR and the Russian military have been changed from Ukrainian to Russian, particularly at the entrance to the city of Mariupol. The sign in the city of Tokmak is also painted in three Russian colors.

On the same day, DPR officials and senior Russian officials inaugurated a statue of a Ukrainian woman holding a Soviet flag in Liberation Soldiers’ Square, which Ukraine and Russia and the separatists dubbed Komsomol-Lenin Square.

Two girls stand next to a statue of a Ukrainian woman with a Soviet flag placed in Mariupol's city square May 5.  Photo: RIA Novosti.

Two girls stand next to a statue of a Ukrainian woman with a Soviet flag placed in Mariupol’s city square May 5. Picture: RIA Novosti.

Russian media reported that the statue was carved in the shape of Anya, an elderly woman living with her husband in a rural part of Ukraine. Video posted on social media last month showed Anya holding a Soviet flag to salute Ukrainian soldiers, thinking they were Russian soldiers.

Ukrainian soldiers gave Anya food, then took the Soviet flag and threw it on the ground. Mrs. Anya returned food to Ukrainian soldiers and said that her parents fought for the Soviet flag.

At the statue’s dedication ceremony, Sergei Kiriyenko, deputy head of the Kremlin office, said that “Mrs. Anya is a symbol of the Motherland for the entire Russian community.” “Unfortunately, we don’t know her full name yet, but we will certainly look for an opportunity to thank her and bow to her,” Kiriyenko said.

In some southern regions of Ukraine, the Russian ruble is gradually being used instead of the Ukrainian hryvnia. A group on social media said government employees in the city of Yakymivka had been told they would have to withhold two-thirds of their salary if they wanted to be paid in Ukrainian hryvnia. Russian and Ukrainian officials have not commented on this report.

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.

Mariupol is a strategic city on the Azov Coast, the corridor at the crossroads connecting the Crimean peninsula with the breakaway region in eastern Ukraine. Complete control of Mariupol would be a major strategic victory for Russia, as it could open a land corridor from Crimea to pro-Russian separatist areas in eastern Ukraine.

Russia claimed control of most of Mariupol on April 21, except for the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, the last Ukrainian defensive stronghold in the southern city. Svyatoslav Palamar, commander of the Azov Battalion, said on May 5 that Russian forces would continue to attack the Azovstal factory.

The Kremlin had previously denied Russian troops had entered the facility and said humanitarian corridors to evacuate stranded civilians were still open. The Russian military announced a three-day ceasefire from May 5 to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal factory.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the country’s military was still ready to create conditions for the safe evacuation of civilians trapped at the factory, but urged Ukrainian soldiers to surrender their weapons.

Nguyen Tien (Corresponding RIA Novosti, CNN)