Ukraine Orders Besieged City to Fight to the Death

The Ukrainian government has announced that “there can be no question of any surrender” for the besieged city of Mariupol, seemingly affirming that Kiev intends for the defenders to fight to the death rather than let the Russians take the key city. The statement came in response to an ultimatum from Russia demanding that remaining Ukrainian soldiers in the city lay down their arms before a designated time.

No hope of rescue for besieged city

The refusal to surrender Mariupol comes from the government in Kiev, rather than the troops currently defending what’s left of the besieged city.

Surviving Ukrainian troops in the pocket are now cut off from the rest of the country by land and sea, so it is not clear that Kiev has any realistic command of the situation.

The government has admitted that there is no possibility of the city being relieved or reinforced; the defenders have been told that their only option is to fight to the bitter end in Mariupol.

The defenders, including the controversial Azov Battalion, appear to be unhappy with this state of affairs. Along with other local authorities and soldiers, they have asked the Zelensky government and the rest of the world for more substantial help.

Russian forces have been slowly but steadily closing the Mariupol pocket, but the city is large and significant parts of it remain in Ukrainian hands despite weeks of fighting.

Each side has accused the other of carrying out countless atrocities over the course of the siege, but as with most of the war so far it is difficult to distinguish the truth from propaganda and unsubstantiated rumors.

Kiev refuses to give up ground

Russia’s terms for the surrender were, at face value, very generous. Ukrainian troops were to be allowed to leave the city and travel to Ukrainian-held territory provided they hand over their weapons.

Kiev may have thought that these terms were too good to be true. Alternatively, there may be a desire to hold Mariupol for as long as possible to relieve the pressure elsewhere.

A third option is that Zelensky’s government is simply refusing to permit any surrenders. Combatants who remain in Mariupol will either surrender as individuals or be killed, but the government will not have formally conceded that the Russians have taken it.

The siege is the most glaring example of the clash between military and political realities. Mariupol is in a hopeless situation militarily, but Zelensky’s presidency could come to a very abrupt end if he gives any ground to the Russians.

Unfortunately, civilians remain caught in the middle.  Kiev’s refusal to consider a surrender will not turn defeat into victory in Mariupol, but it will prolong the misery of the siege for days to come.

Ukrainian troops defending the city itself, of course, will decide whether or not they are willing to sacrifice themselves. Given their tenacity in defending the city even after being completely surrounded, many may indeed choose to go to the bitter end.

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