Why did Mariupol happen?

People in Kyiv hiding. By Ratynskiy Vyacheslav UNIAN i

I am absolutely convinced that many thoughtful readers have asked themselves why it happened that Mariupol has been under siege since the beginning of this war. And why can’t the Ukrainian military do anything to unblock the city? With these questions, I turned to my friend, who holds an important post in military intelligence in Ukraine.

It took him a long time to find time to meet and eventually give the answer to this question. A few days ago, he returned from another trip from the theatre of military operations in the east of the country and agreed to meet for coffee. I picked a deserted park on the outskirts of Kyiv for the meeting. We greeted each other warmly, exchanged a few routine phrases like “how are you”, and “how are your wife, children?” and started talking straight to the point.


The fact that Mariupol is now practically just a geographical name, and not a full-fledged city with 400 thousand inhabitants, is partly to blame on the political leadership of Ukraine, which did not attach due importance to the signals of its own intelligence, as well as the US and British intelligence services, that Russia was going to attack Ukraine from different directions. And accordingly, timely preparations were not made. The stocks of ammunition were not prepared, and the contingency plans were not developed.

But most importantly, in four regions of Ukraine: Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson, there was no organized full-fledged territorial defence system. These are precisely the regions where the Russians have achieved the greatest success. In other regions the desperate resistance of the territorial defence forces allowed them to gain time and prepare the Armed Forces of Ukraine to inflict maximum damage on Russian troops. Why the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions did not organize territorial defence units or volunteer units, there is no clear answer. Probably, we need to talk about the personnel mistakes of Zelensky’s team, which appointed bad managers to responsible leadership positions in these very regions. In addition, it is necessary to speak directly about the betrayal and the open collaboration of many officials in these same regions. Some of these officials were appointed by Zelensky, and some were chosen in local elections. At the same time, it is important to emphasize one paradoxical thing, that Russian troops are methodically destroying precisely those regions that were the most loyal to Russia, and people in these regions traditionally voted for pro-Russian candidates in elections.


And so how did the tragedy with the encirclement of Ukrainian troops in Mariupol become possible? Since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24, the strategic bridges across Chongar still have not been blown up. My friend emphasized that blowing up these bridges would make it impossible to surround Mariupol. But the bridges were not destroyed, and Russian troops quickly seized the strategic initiative. A brief explanation: the only road from Crimea to mainland Ukraine passes through the village of Chongar in the Kherson region. On February 25, Russian troops occupied Melitopol almost without a fight. As reported above, the Ukrainian government did not have time to deploy territorial defence, and there were not enough units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to defend such a large area. Melitopol is a key city on which control over the Azov region and the south of the Zaporizhia region depends. That is, a huge territory from Crimea to the Russian Federation was left without serious defence. On February 26, Russian troops entered Berdyansk without a fight too. At the same time, they approached Tokmak, Pologi, Vasylivka, and Orikhov. The main highways to Mariupol run through these cities of the Zaporizhzhia region. Therefore, at the very beginning of the war, the supply routes to Mariupol were totally under the control of the Russian troops. It became obvious that Mariupol was in an operational encirclement. On March 1, Russian troops broke through the defences of the 53rd Separate Mechanized Brigade of Ukrainian troops north of Mariupol and finally cut off the main supply routes to the city. At the same time, the assault on the city began from the north. At that moment, it was still possible to break out of the city and save the main forces of Ukrainian units in Mariupol and strengthen the southern front with them. But such a command order was not received by the troops in Mariupol. On March 3, Mariupol was completely surrounded and all roads were seized, and Russian troops began attacking from the west as well. At this point, the situation became most critical, because the fight in a complete encirclement is dangerous and costly. The breakthrough already required significant losses, because every day in the environment significantly reduced the amount of ammunition, increased the number of wounded, and significantly reduced combat effectiveness. There were no artillery depots in the city. About 5,500 defenders of Mariupol from the 36th Marine Brigade, the Azov Regiment, and other units were to receive either order to breakthrough or an order to stand until the end because they would be rescued by the troops from outside. Units of the 53rd Mechanized Brigade retreated to Volnovakha. It is already 65 kilometres from Mariupol. For some time, the defence in this area was stabilized. While Volnovakha held on, there was still a chance for an organized breakthrough from Mariupol, although this would have led to heavy losses. But the Russians concentrated large forces to storm Volnovakha. On March 12, Russian troops captured Volnovakha. This led to the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops to Vugledar and Velyka Novosilka, the distance increased to 100 kilometres.

The defenders of Mariupol have done already the impossible when they withstand incredibly difficult circumstances for 60 days in a row without proper military assistance.


From the very beginning, the defence in the total encirclement was the conscious self-sacrifice of thousands of heroes who died without the ability to evacuate most of the wounded, without the ability to obtain ammunition. They understood that the encirclement was a great threat, but they obeyed the order because they were sure that the state would do everything for them as long as they could keep their weapons and have something to fight back. Several heroic raids by Ukrainian helicopters saved many lives, but it was impossible to establish an air bridge in the surrounding area, and the enemy completely blocked this route.

This is what the story of the encirclement of Mariupol looks like. It is both a heroic and tragic story. The Ukrainian state is now unable to help the heroic defenders of Mariupol. And their feat is that they diverted a significant grouping of Russian troops and destroyed the most combat-ready Russian units on this sector of the front. That is why a full-fledged land attack on Mykolaiv, Odesa, and Dnepropetrovsk became impossible. All these cities were protected by Mariupol.

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