The battered port city of Mariupol appeared on the brink of falling to Russian forces Sunday after seven weeks under siege, a development that what would give Moscow a crucial success in Ukraine following Russia's failure to storm the capital and the loss of its Black Sea flagship. The Russian military estimated that about 2,500 Ukrainian fighters holding out at a hulking steel plant with a warren of underground passageways provided the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol. Russia gave a deadline for their surrender, saying those who put down their weapons were “guaranteed to keep their lives,” but the Ukrainians did not submit.
"All those who will continue resistance will be destroyed,” said Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry's spokesman. He said intercepted communications indicated there were about 400 foreign mercenaries along with the Ukrainian troops at the Azovstal steel mill, a claim that couldn’t be independently verified. Seizing Mariupol would free up Russian forces to weaken and encircle Ukrainian soldiers forces in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has focused its war aims for now and is deploying personnel and equipment withdrawn from the north after a botched attempt to take Kyiv.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described Mariupol as a “shield defending Ukraine” as Russian troops prepare for a full-scale offensive in Donbas, the country’s eastern industrial heartland where Moscow-backed separatists already control some territory. In a reminder that no part of Ukraine was immune until the war ends, Russian forces carried out new missile strikes Sunday near Kyiv and elsewhere in an apparent effort to weaken Ukraine’s military capacity before the anticipated assault in the east. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)