Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol encircled by Russian troops, under constant attack

Russian forces continued to bombard the besieged city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, a strategic port city, cutting it off electricity, food, water, heating and transport, officials said.

Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Mariupol has been encircled and under constant attack over the previous 24 hours.

“They are trying to create a blockade here, just like in Leningrad,” he said in a statement referring to the siege of Russia’s second-largest city by the Nazis during World War II, which left hundreds of thousands dead.

“They are trying to prevent us from repairing electricity, water and heating supply,” Boychenko said, adding that Russian troops also damaged the rail link “so that we could not evacuate our women, children and elderly people.”

The Mariupol city council said Russia was constantly and deliberately shelling critical civilian infrastructure and preventing bringing supplies or evacuating people.

Electricity and phone connections were largely down, making it difficult for medics to know where to take the wounded. Homes and shops were facing food and water shortages.

“We are being destroyed as a nation. This is genocide of Ukrainian people,” it said.

The city of more than 400,000 people is a key target for Russian forces. It is Ukraine’s strategic port on the Sea of Azov and is also close to territories controlled by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region.

Moscow’s advance on Ukraine’s southern front is seen as strategically important as it could cut the country off the sea and provide a link between Russian-controlled Crimea and breakaway Donbas republics.

Pro-Russian separatists said they had “tightened their circle” around Mariupol. Igor Konashenkov, chief spokesman for Russia’s Ministry of Defence, claimed the forces had gained control of three more communities in the area surrounding Mariupol, according to Russian news agencies.

On Wednesday, the Russian military said it had seized Kherson, a Black Sea shipbuilding city of 290,000 people, after a three-day siege that left it short of food and medicine. Ukrainian authorities rejected Russia’s claim.

Kherson, strategically located in southern Ukraine at the mouth of the Dneiper River’s exit into the Black Sea, is the first significant urban centre to fall since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Taking control of the city is a significant victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin after a string of military setbacks.

Russian forces also reportedly took over the city of Balakleya, southeast of Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv.