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A closer look: Mariupol is a strategic prize for Russia and a symbol of resistance for Ukraine

A closer look: Mariupol is a strategic prize for Russia and a symbol of resistance for Ukraine

A view showing buildings damaged in the context of the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, on March 28, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermoshenko

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March 30 (Reuters) – The southern Ukrainian port of Mariupol came under heavy fire from Russian forces shortly after the war began on February 24.

The mayor said nearly 5,000 people were killed and buildings destroyed across the city. He said 290,000 people had fled by March 27, but at least 160,000 were still trapped, without electricity and little food or other supplies. Read more

Why is the city so important?

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Strategic location

Mariupol is the largest Ukrainian city on the Sea of ​​Azov, and it is connected to the Black Sea by the narrow Kerch Strait. The city takes its name from Maria Feodorovna, wife of Russian Emperor Alexander III, and is located about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from the border with Russia. It is also located a few kilometers from areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists who have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014.

The capture of Mariupol could enable Russia to create a land bridge between two self-proclaimed breakaway people’s republics in Donbass and the Crimea region that Russia captured and annexed in 2014.

The capture of Mariupol would also give Russia control of the Ukrainian coast on the Sea of ​​Azov as it is also trying to isolate Ukraine from the Black Sea. Russian forces have already captured the Black Sea port of Kherson, 380 km from Mariupol, and Russia controls the Black Sea ports of Crimea.

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The loss of Mariupol, and the creation of a land corridor, could give Russian forces an opportunity to encircle the pre-war Ukrainian forces on the line of contact around the separatist-held territories.

The capture of Mariupol will free the Russian forces involved there for new tasks such as strengthening other fronts.

economic role

Mariupol is an important role for the Ukrainian economy as the port is used to export iron, steel, grain and heavy machinery, and is an important source of income for the Ukrainian government.

It was traditionally a major coal export port in Soviet times, when from 1948 until 1989 it was known as Zhdanov, after a communist leader born there.

A senior industry official said on March 21 that Ukraine faces a potential loss of $6 billion in grain revenue due to Russia’s blockade of ports including Mariupol.

Countries that depend on Ukrainian wheat imports include Egypt, Turkey and Yemen. War contributes to global food price inflation. Read more

Mariupol is also home to Illich Iron and Steel Works, the second largest mining company in Ukraine, and Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, one of the largest steel rolling companies in the country.

Mariupol has deeper docks than other Ukrainian ports in the region. Controlling it could help Russia ship equipment, goods, and people more quickly and easily between Russia, Donbass and Crimea.

David and Goliath

Mariupol became a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance, with leaders portraying the superior defenders as heroes fighting an unequal battle similar to the biblical struggle between David and Goliath.

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Some foreign and Ukrainian leaders have compared the devastation in Mariupol to the devastation wrought by Russian attacks on the Syrian city of Aleppo and Grozny in Russia’s restive Chechnya region.

Mariupol will be the first major Ukrainian city to fall to the Russian invaders. His loss would be a heavy psychological blow that could demoralize Ukrainians.

By contrast, it could improve the mood in Russia and be taken by President Vladimir Putin as a significant victory in a war that Western military experts say has largely struggled to achieve its goals.

Russia has discredited the Azov Battalion, a far-right militia that is part of the Ukrainian National Guard and helps defend Mariupol. One of the stated goals of Putin’s “special operation” was to “smear” Ukraine. Western leaders say it was an unfounded excuse to launch an unprovoked war, but Putin will likely postpone the defeat of the Azov Brigade, or the capture of any of its fighters, as a milestone.

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authored by Timothy Legacy; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.