The Russian military has continued its bombardment of Mariupol, the besieged port city in eastern Ukraine, after the city’s leaders refused a Russian ultimatum to surrender on Monday. Ukrainian and Western officials have characterized the bombardment siege as a war crime.
Street fighting continued throughout Mariupol’s northern and eastern districts on Tuesday, and Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti media outlet claimed the same day that around half of the city was in Russian or pro-Russian separatist hands. The Mariupol city council, which has remained in the unoccupied part of the city, claimed that the Russian bombardment would turn the city to “ashes” if it was not lifted immediately.
Around 400,000 Ukrainians lived in Mariupol prior to the Russian invasion, which surrounded the city on land in the opening hours of the conflict. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped in the city, many without or with limited access to food, water, electricity, or heat. Deputy Mayor Sergei Olov said earlier in the week that the city has received no humanitarian assistance from the outside world and accused the Russian attackers of war crimes.
While the Russian and Ukrainian governments initially agreed that civilian evacuations could take place from the city in “safe corridors,” scheduled evacuations have repeatedly been scrapped in the wake of Russian shelling. Russian officials have also insisted that civilians departing Mariupol should travel east rather than west, a demand that Ukrainian officials have refused. The country’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, announced earlier in the week that the Ukrainian government was investigating reports of a “forcible transfer” of more than 2,000 evacuated Ukrainian children from the separatist-controlled Luhansk and Donetsk regions into the Russian interior.
Russian forces do not appear to have shifted their tactics in response to the presence of civilians, and Western officials and human rights groups have accused them of indiscriminately shelling civilian areas, a war crime according to the Geneva Convention. The Russian military caused international outrage on March 9 after bombing a maternity hospital in the city. In the aftermath of that bombing, Russian leaders made self-contradictory claims that the hospital was both empty and actively being used as a base by the far-right “Azov Battalion” militia. Russian media also alleged that civilian victims depicted in footage of the event were “crisis actors.”
Earlier this week, Russian forces also bombed a theater where more than one thousand Ukrainian civilians had gathered to seek shelter. Continued Russian shelling has disrupted efforts to evacuate survivors from under the rubble.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.