Battle for Mariupol: Forces clash at Azovstal steel plant stronghold

Azovstal has served as a stronghold for Ukrainian forces in Mariupol.

 Service members of pro-Russian troops drive an armoured vehicle during Ukraine-Russia conflict near the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 17, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
Service members of pro-Russian troops drive an armoured vehicle during Ukraine-Russia conflict near the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 17, 2022

The Battle of Mariupol continued into the 56th day of the war with the Russian assault on the Azovstal steel plant, which has become a focal point of the battle, the Ukrainian military said on Wednesday morning. 

Azovstal has served as a stronghold for Ukrainian forces. Russia called on Ukrainian troops at the steel plant to surrender, saying its troops will observe a ceasefire while the proposal is in effect. Russian-backed separatists later said five people had surrendered, a day after Russia said no-one had responded to a similar surrender call.

Video released by Ukraine's Azov battalion purported to show people living in a network beneath the sprawling Azovstal steel plant, where they say hundreds of women, children and elderly civilians are sheltering with supplies running out. Reuters could not independently verify where or when the video was shot. Russian deputy UN representative Dmitry Polyansky said that these civilians are being used as human shields, Russian state media outlet TASS reported.

"The situation in Mariupol remains unchanged - as severe as possible," said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a statement on Tuesday night. "The Russian military is blocking any efforts to organize humanitarian corridors and save our people. Local residents who have fallen into the hands of the occupiers are being tried for deportation or even mobilization into the occupying forces."

Russia continues its eastern operations with the goal of achieving full military control over the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, the Ukrainian military said in a Wednesday morning operational update. 

On several fronts, the Ukrainian military said that it identified that Russian forces were regrouping and rearming rather than renewing their offensives, but the push continued toward Izyum, which lies between Kharkiv, and Donetsk and Luhansk.

"Russia's military presence on Ukraine's eastern border continues to build, while fighting in the Donbas is intensifying as Russian forces seek to break through Ukrainian Defences," the UK Defense Ministry said in a Wednesday morning intelligence update. 

"We have seen some limited offenses at operations begin southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum. We think that these offenses are preludes to larger offensive operations that the Russians plan to conduct," said Pentagon officials in a Tuesday press briefing.

"The intensity of fire by Russian troops in the Kharkiv direction, in the Donbas, and in the Dnipropetrovsk region has increased significantly," Zelensky said on Tuesday night

Shelling and missile strikes of Ukrainian positions also continued across the fronts. The Russian military said that on Wednesday that over Tuesday night they had hit over 1053 Ukrainian military sites. On Tuesday Pentagon officials said that at best count, Russia had launched 1670 missiles since the war began. 

"Russian air activity in northern Ukraine is likely to remain low since its withdrawal from the north of Kyiv. However, there is still a risk of precision strikes against priority targets throughout Ukraine," said the UK Defense Ministry. "Russian attacks on cities across Ukraine show their intent to try and disrupt the movement of Ukrainian reinforcements and weaponry to the east of the country."

War casualties

The Ukrainian military claims that the Russian military has lost about 20,900 military personnel since the war began, but Western intelligence sources have published more conservative numbers.

Ukraine also claims to have destroyed 815 tanks, 2087 armored vehicles, 391 artillery systems, 136 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), 67 anti-air systems, 171 warplanes, 150 helicopters, 1504 other ground vehicles, 8 ships, 76 fuel tanks, and 165 drones.

The Russian military claimed on Wednesday to have destroyed 140 warplanes, 496 drones 2388 tanks and other armor, and 1029 artillery pieces. In the past, the Russian Defense Ministry has claimed that Ukraine has lost 23,367 military personnel.