Smoke rises above the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol Smoke rises above the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol  

Russian president orders blockade of Mariupol steel plant

Russian President Vladimir Putin orders his troops not to storm a steel plant in Ukraine's besieged port city of Mariupol, where the last group of Ukrainian fighters are holding out.

By Stefan J. Bos

The Russian President told his forces to hold back from storming Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant in a televised meeting across a small table from his defense minister.

Instead, President Putin ordered his soldiers to block off the industrial area in Ukraine's strategic port city, which had become a symbol of resistance during Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"I consider the proposed storming of the industrial zone unnecessary. I order you to cancel it," President Putin said. "This is a case where we must think especially about preserving the lives and health of our soldiers and officers. There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities. Instead, block off these industrial facilities so not even a fly can escape," he added.

Putin explained that Russia's military should invite those who have not yet laid down their arms to do so. In return, he said, "the Russian side guarantees their lives and their dignified treatment." Putin claimed that besides this pocket of resistance, Russia now controls Mariupol.

He spoke after authorities said more than 2,000 Ukrainian fighters and civilians remain inside the massive, four-square-mile plant, the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol.

Among the fighters are also members of the 36th Marine Brigade. In a video message, its commander, Major Serhiy Volyna, said that his troops would not surrender. But he urged the world to help the hundreds of wounded soldiers and civilians. "This could be the last appeal of our lives. We are probably facing days, if not hours. The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one," he stressed. 

Pleading with world leaders

Major Volyna added: "We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us. We ask them to use the extraction procedure and take us to the territory of a third-party state." He said everyone, including "500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians such as women and children," should be brought to safety.

However, on Thursday, there were no signs that Russia would lift a blockade near the steel plant.

Russia wants to capture Mariupol as it firmly links territory held by the separatists who Russia backs in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region and Crimea, the peninsula Moscow seized in 2014.

Moscow also made clear that it would use more serious weapons if Ukraine's Western allies threatened Russia.

The Russian military showed footage claiming it successfully performed the first test of a new intercontinental ballistic missile that Putin said would make the West "think twice" about aggressive intentions against Russia.

Pictures of the launch emerged reported clashes across Ukraine, including a Russian assault in the country's east.

Rising death toll emerges

Ukraine's military also claimed that in the Russian-occupied southern city of Kherson, Russian troops are to "forcibly mobilize" locals to fight for Moscow.

Amid raging battles, this war's rising death toll becomes increasingly apparent. The bodies of more than 1,000 civilians are reportedly being stored in morgues in and around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv alone.

The war in Ukraine also has worldwide implications. For example, sunflower oil exports from Ukraine were halted amid fighting with Russia, triggering a domino effect on global food prices.

The World Bank calculates there could be a "huge" 37 percent jump in food prices.

World Bank president David Malpass says the world faces a "human catastrophe" as it would push hundreds of millions of people into poverty and lower nutrition if the crisis continues.

21 April 2022, 16:58