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April 21, 2022 4:05 pm

Putin Claims Victory in Mariupol, US Calls It ‘Disinformation’

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Local residents gather outside a residential building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 21, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the biggest battle of the war in Ukraine on Thursday, declaring the port city of Mariupol “liberated” after nearly two months of siege.

However, hundreds of fighters and civilians were still holed up inside a huge steel works. Putin ordered his troops to blockade the complex “so that not even a fly” could escape.

The US State Department said it understood Ukrainian forces still held ground in Mariupol and called Putin’s claim to have liberated the city “yet more disinformation from their well-worn playbook.” Washington authorized another $800 million in military aid for Ukraine, including heavy artillery.

Ukraine said Putin wanted to avoid a final clash with its forces in the city as he lacked the troops to defeat them.

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In video messages, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky begged Western nations to send more weapons and to impose more economic sanctions on Moscow. In a virtual address to a World Bank forum he said Ukraine needed $7 billion per month to make up for economic losses caused by Russia’s invasion.

“This is just the first step (for Russia) to gain control of eastern Europe, to destroy democracy in Ukraine,” he said in a video address to the Portuguese parliament. “We are fighting not only for our independence, but for our survival, for our people so that they do not get killed, tortured and raped.”

Zelensky accused the Russian army of committing many atrocities in Ukraine, including in Mariupol, and urged countries to break relations with Moscow.

Russia denies targeting civilians and rejects what Ukraine says is evidence of atrocities, saying Ukraine has staged them. Moscow calls its incursion a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies reject that as a false pretext for an illegal war of aggression.

World Bank President David Malpass estimated physical damage to Ukraine’s buildings and infrastructure had reached roughly $60 billion and would rise further as the war continues. He told a World Bank conference on financial assistance to Ukraine the estimate did not include the growing economic costs of the war.


Mariupol, once home to 400,000 people, has seen not only the most intense battle of the war that started when Russian forces invaded on Feb. 24, but also its worst humanitarian catastrophe.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians were cut off for nearly two months under Russian siege and bombardment.

Journalists who reached Mariupol during the siege found streets littered with corpses, nearly all buildings destroyed, and residents huddled freezing in cellars, venturing out to cook scraps on makeshift stoves or to bury bodies in gardens.

Ukraine estimates tens of thousands of civilians have died in Mariupol, some buried in mass graves. The United Nations and Red Cross say the civilian toll is at least in the thousands.

Ukrainian fighters remain inside the Azovstal steel complex, one of the biggest metallurgical facilities in Europe, covering 11 sq km with huge buildings, underground bunkers and tunnels. Putin had told the defenders to lay down their weapons and surrender or die.

In a televised meeting at the Kremlin on Thursday, Putin congratulated Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian troops for having “successfully completed the combat effort to liberate Mariupol.”

He said it was unnecessary to storm the industrial zone and ordered such action to be cancelled.

“There’s no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities… Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly can get through,” he said.

The Ukrainian military said Russian forces had nevertheless tried to storm the seaport and steel plant.

While Putin claimed his first big prize since his forces were driven out of northern Ukraine last month, it falls short of the unambiguous victory Moscow has sought after months of combat in a city reduced to rubble.

“They physically cannot take Azovstal, they have understood this, they have taken huge losses there,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told a briefing. “Our defenders continue to hold it.”

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 1,000 civilians and 500 wounded soldiers needed to be brought out from the plant immediately, blaming Russian forces for the failure to establish a safe corridor that she said had been agreed.

Zelensky said 120,000 civilians were still being blocked from leaving Mariupol.

Moscow says Russia has taken in 140,000 civilians from Mariupol in humanitarian evacuations. Kyiv says some were deported by force, in what would be a war crime.


Western officials in London warned that Putin could still win in Ukraine.

Control of Mariupol links territory held by separatists Russia backs in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region with Crimea, the peninsula Moscow seized in 2014.

An aide to Zelensky’s chief of staff told Ukrainian television Russian forces captured 42 villages in the eastern Donetsk region on Thursday, but Ukraine might soon take them back.

It was a critical time in the conflict, said US President Joe Biden.

He pledged to send dozens of howitzers, 144,000 rounds of ammunition and tactical drones to Ukraine.

“We’re in a critical window now of time where they’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war,” Biden said.

Washington and allies were “moving as fast as possible” to provide Ukraine with the equipment and weapons it needs, he said.

The new arms package is the same size as one of $800 million announced last week. Biden also announced plans to ban Russian-affiliated ships from US borders, adding to a host of Western sanctions on Moscow.

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