Why Russia wants to close the Mariupol steel factory?

Soldiers of pro-Russian forces sit atop an armored vehicle en route to the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 17. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Putin has stated that Russian forces have “liberated” Mariupol, but the situation in the besieged port city remains confusing as Ukrainian officials have denied that the city has fallen into Russian hands.

As the Mariupol barrage continues, the Azovstal steel plant has become one of the last major strongholds of Ukrainian troops.

The sprawling industrial complex is home to hundreds of soldiers and civilians.

Evacuations: After numerous failed attempts to establish safe passageways, four evacuation buses managed to leave Mariupol on Wednesday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Thursday.

“They spent the night in Berdiansk and are now on their way to Vasylivka,” Vereshchuk said in a statement to Telegram.

However, officials say tens of thousands of civilians are still trapped in Mariupol.

The co-commander of one of the Ukrainian units surrounded in the port said the city is under heavy bombardment.

Maksym Zhorin, co-commander of Ukraine’s Azov regiment, said in televised comments that Russian troops “have not stopped shelling areas of Mariupol” during negotiations on so-called “green corridors” for evacuation from the city, reducing the number of people can be evacuated.

Call for arms for Ukraine: Most of the southern city has been destroyed or badly damaged. Photos and drone footage show that almost no street has been untouched by the war, while the relentless bombing has made it uninhabitable.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday the country’s armed forces do not have enough “serious and heavy” weapons to defeat the Russian army in Mariupol.

He outlined two possible ways to end the deadlock in the city: “First, it involves serious and heavy weapons […] right now we don’t have enough of these weapons to free Mariupol. The second path is diplomatic. Until now, Russia has not agreed to this.”

He added:

“We don’t know when we can unblock Mariupol. And I say this openly, that all the boys in Mariupol want our victory, they want a free city, none of them will surrender to the enemy. This is their inner feeling, this is what they are,” he added, together with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, in Kiev.”

Zelensky also said the fate of the “few thousand” Ukrainian civilians who fled the besieged city of Mariupol via evacuation corridors to areas under Russian occupation is currently unknown.

Two top Ukrainian officials said they are ready to go to Mariupol to negotiate the evacuation of soldiers and civilians, according to a captain of Ukraine’s Azov regiment.

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