Russia ‘plans Victory Day celebrations’ in Mariupol as fighting in city continues


Russia
 appears to be planning Victory Day celebrations in the battered Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Observers have speculated for months that Vladimir Putin would take the opportunity on 9 May – when grand ceremonies will be held to remember the Russian sacrifices of the Second World War – to hold a parade in the city which has become a desperate symbol of Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.

In the past week, some, including the British defence secretary, have warned that the Russian president may formally declare war on Ukraine, having told the Russian people from the outset that their forces were on a “special military operation” over the border.

Mariupol, a city left in ruins by months of bombardment, is expected to be held up as a Russian success in a campaign that has given Moscow few positives to claim.

Mr Putin declared victory in Mariupol a fortnight back, with his troops having taken control of all territory besides the Azovstal steel plant by the city’s port where a small Ukrainian resistance has been confined for weeks.

Ukrainian intelligence said Mariupol was being prepared to be made the centre of Victory Day celebrations.

Municipal workers attach a Russian national flag to a pole in Mariupol on Thursday (AP)
Municipal workers attach a Russian national flag to a pole in Mariupol on Thursday (AP)

“To this end, the city is urgently cleaning the central streets from debris, the bodies of killed and unexploded ordnance,” a post on the Ukrainian Defence Intelligence agency (GUR) Telegram page said.

In recent days Russian flags have been raised around the city, a road sign on the outskirts has been changed from Ukrainian into Russian language and a central statue of a Soviet warship has been scrubbed and repainted.

Russian independent media reported that high-ranking Kremlin official Sergei Kiriyenko visited Mariupol this week to unveil a statue of a Russian grandmother waving a Soviet flag – laying the ground for Victory Day celebrations while nodding to a past era of Russian control over Ukraine.

Workers change a road sign outside Mariupol from Ukrainian to Russian language on Thursday (Donetsk People Republic/AFP/Getty)
Workers change a road sign outside Mariupol from Ukrainian to Russian language on Thursday (Donetsk People Republic/AFP/Getty)

The GUR said it expected Russia to parade Ukrainian prisoners of war through the streets of Mariupol on Victory Day, citing the example of a rally in Donetstk on Victory Day in 2014 when Russian-backed forces did so for propaganda purposes.

Mariupol has been a focus for Russian forces since the early days of the invasion due in large part to its strategic location. The city stands on the road from the Russian border to Moscow’s claimed territory of Crimea to the west and was a key Black Sea port for Ukraine.

When Mr Putin claimed victory in the city weeks ago, he said he had ordered his troops to blockade the Ukrainian fighters holed up in Azovstal.

Russian-backed troops fire near Azovstal on Thursday (Reuters)
Russian-backed troops fire near Azovstal on Thursday (Reuters)

Since then, Russian forces have shelled the facility and in recent days have attempted to force their way in. Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said this was likely in order to remove any Ukrainian claim to Mariupol to secure a symbolic success ahead of Victory Day on Monday.

Russia is pursuing this victory at a cost to its other efforts in Ukraine as troops and equipment have been drawn to Mariupol, the MoD said.

Victory Day is an important date in Russia, the biggest patriotic holiday in its calendar. Tributes are paid to the 27 million people the Soviet Union lost in the Second World War and there is traditionally a large parade in Moscow’s Red Square.

File: Putin addresses the Victory Day crowd in Moscow in 2016 (AFP/Getty)
File: Putin addresses the Victory Day crowd in Moscow in 2016 (AFP/Getty)

On the ground in Mariupol on Friday, more civilians were rescued from tunnels under a besieged steel plant, a Ukrainian official said.Some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters, by Russia’s most recent estimate, are holed up in a vast maze of tunnels and bunkers beneath Azovstal steelworks — and they have repeatedly refused to surrender. Ukraine said a few hundred civilians were also trapped there — and as the battle has ramped up in recent days, fears for their safety have only grown.“We conducted another stage of a complex operation to evacuate people from Mariupol and Azovstal. I can say that we managed to take out almost 500 civilians,” the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said Friday on the Telegram messaging app.

Published by anthonyhayble

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