Mariupol Surrenders to the Russian Army After Epic 82-Day Siege

AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

Monday, the Ukrainian garrison still holding out in the massive Azovstal Iron and Steelworks plant in Mariupol surrendered.

On March 19, the Russian military issued an ultimatum that sounded ominous. The Mariupol defenders were given a matter of hours to surrender the city, lay down their arms, and accept a Russian guarantee of “safe passage” out of the city or the garrison, which Moscow termed “nationalists,” “foreign mercenaries,” and “bandits,” would face a “military tribunal.” The reason for the Russian action was that Mariupol had resisted Russian assaults for over three weeks, and some 20 Russian battalion tactical groups (BTGs) that were desperately needed for other operations were bogged down in street fighting (Mariupol Defenders Reject Russian Demand for Surrender Setting up the Largest Siege of a City Since WWII).

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After a siege of nearly three months, the garrison was forced into a network of tunnels and bunkers built to withstand a nuclear attack. They were cut off, running out of food and ammunition, and no longer had the means to treat their wounded.

As the scene grew grimmer in the underground complex–surgery and amputations were performed without anesthesia and antibiotics–several attempts were made to negotiate a way out. The Turks, Red Cross, and the Vatican all attempted to negotiate safe passage with a guarantee of internment until the war was over, but to no avail. Finally, the weight of wounded comrades and the lack of the means to resist

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Some two hundred wounded Ukrainian prisoners were taken to a hospital in Russian-occupied Donetsk. The remainder were sent to a facility in Olenivka. The terms of the surrender stipulate that they will be exchanged for an equal number of Russian prisoners.

Unfortunately, the men were forced to surrender to Russians. If Russian officers were described by General George Patton as “giv[ing] the appearance of recently civilized Mongolian bandits,” the Russian soldiery is establishing a reputation as brutal, undisciplined, and devoid of honor. If anything, their politicians are worse. Already, the groundwork is being laid to renege on the prisoner exchange agreement.

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There is little chance that any of the men who surrendered will live through the experience. They cost the Russians too much in time and casualties.

The men holding Mariupol did all that could be reasonably expected. These men may have turned the tide of the war in Southern Ukraine by keeping 20,000 enemy soldiers, that is, one-sixth of all Russian troops in Ukraine, tied up for over a month. The Russian units freed up by this surrender suffered heavy losses and will need an extensive rebuilding period to regain combat effectiveness.

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