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A Ukrainian soldier in Mariupol on March 12, 2022

‘They’ve written us off’ A Ukrainian officer says the national authorities have abandoned Mariupol’s last-standing defenders

Source: Meduza
A Ukrainian soldier in Mariupol on March 12, 2022
A Ukrainian soldier in Mariupol on March 12, 2022
Mstyslav Chernov / AP / Scanpix / LETA

The last remaining soldiers still defending Mariupol against complete Russian occupation say they’ve been left without the Ukrainian authorities’ support. In a message shared through its Facebook page on April 11, the 36th Separate Marine Brigade of the Ukrainian Navy declared, “We’ve been defending Mariupol for 47 days now. They’ve bombed us from planes and fired at us with artillery, tanks, and other weapons. We’ve held the line with honor, achieving the impossible. But all resources eventually run out.” Meduza examines what the Facebook message says, and how others in the war have responded.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion in late February, the brigade says it received just a single delivery of 50 artillery shells, 20 mines, a handful of NLAW single-use shoulder-fired, anti-tank missile systems, and a single kit for accessing SpaceX’s Starlink satellite Internet constellation. (“Thanks, Elon! It’s withstood many airstrikes, and it’s still working!” says the Facebook post)

They gave us nothing else. […] The enemy gradually pushed us all the way back to the Azovmash factory, encircling us and pinning us down by fire, and now they’re trying to destroy us. There was the option of sending us reinforcements to strengthen and extend the city’s defense. And the brigade had options to punch through and head for our own troops. […] For more than a month, we Marines fought without ammunition resupplies, without food, without water, practically drinking from puddles and dying in heaps. […] The infantry is all dead, and now all the fighting is being done by the artillery gunners, the anti-aircraft gunners, the signalmen, the drivers, and the cooks. Even the band members. They’re dying, but they’re fighting. […] Nobody wants to communicate with us anymore because they’ve written us off. Today will likely be our final battle, since we’ve run out [of ammunition]. Next comes hand-to-hand. Then it’s death for some and captivity for others.

Journalists at the Ukrainian news outlet Novynarnia say they reached the soldier who administers the 36th Brigade’s Facebook page, and he confirmed that the page had not been hacked, though he clarified that the published message does not reflect the unit’s official position. Instead, it is “a letter from a Marine” — reportedly one of the brigade’s most senior officers — through whom the unit has maintained contact with the outside world. The officer allegedly asked to publish the letter on April 11 without revealing his name. Afterward, he ceased all communication, says Novynarnia’s source.

Not the first complaint

This isn’t the first time that soldiers defending Mariupol have complained about a lack of support from the national authorities. Just a day earlier, on April 10, the Azov regiment’s Twitter account shared a video wherein the unit’s deputy commander, Svyatoslav Palamar, said the regiment hadn’t heard from Ukraine’s political leadership in more than two weeks:

Have you thought about what it’s like being here? What it’s like to fight in the conditions that Mariupol’s defenders experience? […] These politicians say, “We support them, we’re in constant contact,” but it’s been more than two weeks, and nobody picks up the phone, and nobody talks to anybody. This is to remember. To remember us, and to remember Mariupol forever… This city is a martyr and a fighter. And we exist now, in the present, not in the past, understand? It’s like reading your own obituary, but you’re still here, there’s still hope in your heart, and you know there are people coming to save you.

After 36th Brigade’s Facebook message, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, declared that the defense of Mariupol continues. Communications with the units still in the city “are stable and intact,” he said in his own Facebook post.

“I stress that conducting defense operations is not a topic for public discussion. We’re doing everything both possible and impossible to win and to save the lives of personnel and civilians in every way imaginable. Have faith in Ukraine’s Armed Forces!” wrote General Zaluzhnyi.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky previously stated that troops in Mariupol were defending the city against roughly 10,000 Russian soldiers. The local Azov regiment reported on April 11 that the enemy’s numbers were roughly 10 times greater than its own.

Some of the Russian troops occupying Mariupol include combat units from Chechnya. Between March 14 and April 6, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov declared 26 times that the city was about to fall to Russian control. On April 8, he claimed that “98 percent had been liberated,” and just a small contingent of “Banderites” still held a few fortified positions, including the Azovstal factory

On April 11, self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” defense spokesman Eduard Basurin said that “three or four thousand little nationalists” were sheltering at the Azovstal factory. The Ukrainian troops now occupy the factory’s underground floors, said Basurin, making it difficult to storm the compound. As a result, the DNR official suggested that invading forces might block all the building’s entrances and exits before deploying “chemical troops” against the city’s last-remaining defenders. “They’ll find a way to smoke these moles out of their holes,” Basurin said.

Warning: Due to the conditions of the war, Meduza is unable to verify information distributed by representatives of the conflict’s combatants. Please read with caution.

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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