Ukraine launched a series of surprise attacks on Russian troops and supply lines in Mariupol, the first attacks on the city since it fell to the Kremlin last May after a brutal three-month siege that left the key port in ruins.
There were at least 18 attacks last week over three consecutive days, the most recent on Friday night, in a significant increase in Ukraine’s efforts to retake its captured southern corridor, the strip of coastal land linking Crimea.
There is speculation that the explosions, which took place amid warnings from Kiev of a Russian offensive to coincide with the first anniversary of the war, may have involved newly donated long-range US rockets with a range of nearly 100 miles.
Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, said: ‘Our army destroys the Russian terrorists who invaded our city called Mariupol. And believe me, distance is not of great importance to us today.
Analysts believe the new initiative heralds the launch of Ukraine’s efforts to drive a wedge on the coast between Russian forces in the east and south of the country. There is talk of a big spring offensive once his army is bolstered by Western weapons.
Ukrainian forces fired a rocket yesterday. Ukraine has launched a series of surprise attacks against Russian troops and supply lines in Mariupol.
Russian Mishanin with his daughter Daria (pictured), whom he said goodbye to at the Odessa train station on April 4, 2022. He has now met her in Germany
Moscow has made Mariupol an important garrison for its forces, believing the Azov Sea port was too far away to be attacked by the nearest Ukrainian forces, some 60 miles away in the hotly contested mining town of Vuhledar.
Mariupol sources say the attacks, led with the help of local supporters, hit ammunition depots, fuel depots and a military headquarters located in a steel plant, resulting in 50 Russian casualties in the first wave of explosions on Wednesday.
There were 12 reported strikes that day, then five the next day, including at least two more at the Illich iron and steel plant and one near the airport. Another explosion took place around 10:30 p.m. on Friday.
Petro Andriushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol. he said: ‘I am absolutely happy. We worked hard with our resistance inside Mariupol for this attack. This is a step towards vacating Mariupol. Any Ukrainian should be happy.
Another local official said Russian targets were also attacked in the villages of Yalta and Yurivka, some 20 miles along the coast from Mariupol, where there is a “large concentration of occupiers.” Oleg Zhdanov, a former Ukrainian artillery colonel and leading defense analyst, said: “What we are seeing in Mariupol is a systematic destruction of logistical supplies for the Russians. It looks the same as we had before retaking Kherson.
A Ukrainian counteroffensive liberated Kherson four months ago in a major blow to Vladimir Putin’s claims to have annexed the entire region, though the city remains under frequent shelling by Russian forces.
A Russian Mishanin says goodbye to his nine-year-old daughter as the family train leaves for Poland in April 2022.
Zhdanov said Mariupol was a key Russian hub for troops, weapons, ammunition, fuel and food. ‘Liberation is not only possible but inevitable.
The only question is what weapon was used to get to Mariupol. We can only guess.
Intelligence sources in kyiv refused to discuss the attacks. Ukraine has previously used drones, special forces agents and local partisan groups to strike deep behind enemy lines and even sites inside Russia.
Liberation is not only possible, it is inevitable
Last summer, the momentum of the war changed after the US began supplying multiple rocket launchers known as HIMARS, which fire satellite-guided rockets with a maximum range of 50 miles, more than Ukraine previously possessed.
Earlier this month, Washington announced it would nearly double Kiev’s attack range with the supply of the ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb, a precision-guided rocket that can be launched in any weather and overcome electronic jamming.
Russian propagandists claimed these bombs were used in the Mariupol attacks, although the attacks may have involved long-range kamikaze drones already being used for attacks on bases in the Crimea and Russian airfields.
After the first attack last week, Russian-appointed officials tried to reassure residents that their air defenses had shot down two Ukrainian drones. Nearly half a million people lived in the industrial port of Mariupol before the war, but after Russian bombing razed much of the city, only about 90,000 Ukrainians are believed to remain under occupation.
Moscow is believed to have brought in some 40,000 civilians, many from Central Asia, to clear the rubble and cover up war crimes. Ukrainian symbols are being torn down while Russian education, passports and television are imposed.
Mykhailo Dianov, a Ukrainian marine who took part in the brutal final battles of the siege at the Azovstal steel plant, said Mariupol could be easily recaptured as his forces know all the bunkers, entrances and loopholes in the defenses.
“The only difficulty is that the civilians remain there,” he said.
An 18-year-old student, who was left to care for his elderly grandmother, claimed to have heard the explosions. The Russians did not expect it. They keep saying everything is fine, there were drones and they just shot them down, but my house was shaking,” he said.
An elderly woman in Mariupol said Russia failed to keep promises to residents, including repairing a gaping hole in her roof caused by its shelling. “They lied to us,” she said. ‘They don’t even pay pensions on time. Life got a lot worse.
We work with our resistance in the city
‘A year ago we had everything. Yes, it wasn’t perfect, but we had food and heating and all the products were in the stores. I miss Ukrainian shops – they are expensive, there are very few options and no one has money.
‘I don’t know who is right and who is wrong. I only know that I had a better life. She hoped that Russia would do more for us.
General Valery Zaluzhny, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, says he promised a four-year-old boy that they would liberate Mariupol this year. Perhaps those strikes last week are the beginning of fulfilling that promise.