Dispatches From the Mariupol Siege

One photo shows Bohdan Krotevych wearing a helmet and tired, looking tired but peaceful. The big-eyed dog sitting next to him in the photo was “killed by a Russian mine,” he said. “Children and women are dying. They are being killed and raped. . . . It was hell in Mariupol. . . . It’s hard for me to talk about it.”

Mr. Krotevych, 29 years old, is the chief of staff of the Azov Regiment, a unit of the Ukrainian National Guard. Since the end of April, he has periodically sent me text messages from the bombed southeastern city, now like Grozny or Aleppo. But Mariupol is not completely down. Surrounded and subdued, Mr. Krotevych and “brothers in hand”, as he put it, refused to surrender.

Vladimir Putin coveted Mariupol because of its prime location. Before the war, goods from eastern and southern Ukraine were transported to global markets through this port city on the Sea of ​​Azov. An important highway running through Mariupol could connect Russian territory with occupied Crimea.

The city also has a symbolic meaning. “How can the second strongest army in the world not be able to capture a city defended by 2,000 men serving for more than two months now?” Mr. Krotevych said. “Azov has dealt a heavy blow to Putin’s ego, and at the same time showed Ukraine that we can overcome the overwhelming force of the enemy.”

The Azov Regiment was known for its bravery and contention. American media have reported that some members espouse neo-Nazi ideology, a statement released by the Kremlin. I asked Mr. Krotevych about the reputation of the unit. “Like in other units, including military units of the United States military, there were a number of individuals who took a Nazi stance,” he said. But labeling the entire regiment as neo-Nazi “is like calling all Americans racist because the KKK exists in America.” He added that the extremists were “disastrously dismissed.” without the right to wear uniforms or chevrons.”

The regiment now stands at the last foot at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. This structure provides significant protection against tank shells, artillery and aerial bombs; Built to handle molten metal, it also features spacious bunkers. “It’s a great place to be on the defensive and a very unlikely place to be if it’s held up by defenders,” said Fred Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. resolute, like this place.

Fierce skirmishes prevented much of the foreign press from covering the ground in Mariupol, and misinformation abounded. To prove his whereabouts and identity, Mr. Krotevych sent me a video of him outside the factory. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry reviewed the footage and confirmed it was him. Storyful, a social network intelligence service owned by News Corp,

Magazine’s parent company, matched the background in his video to other images of the steel mill.

Mr. Krotevych said that the conditions there were severe. In mid-April, the injured were “literally rotting because of the underground conditions, the humidity and the unsanitary conditions.” “The injuries are very serious: amputation of limbs, muscle tears, lacerations, severe burns.” He could not comment on remaining food and ammunition supplies, but drugs such as pain relievers were “in extremely small quantities”.

Mr. Krotevych also said at the end of April that more than 300 civilians were sheltering in the factory, including women, children and a 4-month-old baby. He described how they cowered on the ground in horror at the shelling and the prospect that the Russians might use white phosphorus bombs, which could melt flesh and burn to bones. Since then, many civilians have been evacuated from the factory.

These departures, along with any deaths of Ukrainian soldiers, could prolong the siege; Food, water, and other supplies last longer among the few who remain.

“I used to think that in Ukraine, people were valued,” she said. “Waiting until a soldier dies from lack of food, water, or medicine is unprofessional. That is what the Ukrainian government is doing now.” She said she felt “very angry with our government’s actions, and also with the indifference of the world leaders who let it happen.”

The prospect of a negotiated rescue for the soldiers is slim. Ukrainian fighters standing in Mariupol have held back the Russian army and prevented them from participating in other battles in southern and eastern Ukraine, so there is a strategic reason for them to stay. Meanwhile, Mr. Putin wants to give the Russian public a flashy military victory in Mariupol and as such, he most likely does not want to show any mercy to the soldiers there. Even if Kyiv and Moscow could agree on a humanitarian corridor for the soldiers in the steel mill, the military might not count on it. In one infamous incident in 2014, the Russians ambushed and massacred Ukrainian fighters in Ilovaisk after promising them safe passage.

A military rescue is even less likely. The Russians control large areas around Mariupol, so “it would be a big, big attack on behalf of Ukrainian forces” and could come at the expense of other strategic priorities, says Mason Clark , a senior analyst and leader of the Russia group at the Institute said. for War Studies.

“Most likely these people will die, and the only thing that can be said is, I think, Ukrainian children will remember their names for generations,” Mr. Kagan said. “The Russians gave them little choice, because the defenders had no reason to think that if they surrendered, the Russians would do anything but torture and kill them. And in that situation, most people would choose death to fight rather than surrender. I don’t think the Ukrainians will be able to break the siege or end the siege before these guys are finally overcome.”

I asked Mr. Krotevych about the bleak outlook. At the steel mill, he said, “our attitude was spirited/exciting, but, unfortunately, after two months of lockdown, our warriors started to get tired.” He later added: “I was certain I would die a few times, but the humor always helped me to endure it calmly. Death will come no matter what, but when a warrior sacrifices himself to protect his country, I personally consider it a worthy death.”

But frustration also appeared in Mr. Krotevych’s messages: “I often do not understand the value of the guarantees of security and territorial integrity, among other guarantees, that US President Bill Clinton makes in the Budapest Memorandum” – the 1994 agreement under which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees from the US, UK and Russia. “Otto von Bismarck said that any treaty with Russia is not worth it on paper and there is no doubt about it, but can the United States give up its promises so easily? Is that so?”

I asked him what he wanted the readers to understand. “The devil doesn’t understand agreements and negotiations,” he replied. “Evil can only be understood by strength. . . . And waiting only causes so many innocent victims.”

Mrs. Melchior is the editor of the Journal.

Vladimir Putin blames his war in Ukraine on a planned attack on Russia by US-backed neo-Nazis, although there is evidence that Putin is ‘currently mirroring communism’. Fascism and the tyranny of 77 years ago.’ Image: Shutterstock / Reuters / Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

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Alley Einstein

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