Intense shelling was reported for the second day in a row in the southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which is located in Donetsk oblast on the Sea of Azov.
The city’s mayor told reporters on Thursday that Mariupol had been encircled and was under constant attack for the previous 24 hours. He accused Russian forces of targeting civilian infrastructure.
“They are trying to prevent us from repairing electricity, water and heating supply,” Mayor Vadym Boychenko said. He said Russia was trying to create a blockade on Mariupol just “like Leningrad,” referring to the Nazi siege during World War II.
Mariupol is the base of the infamous far-right neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, which started as a militia in 2014 and was absorbed by Ukraine’s National Guard. The Azov Battalion helped Ukrainian forces drive out the separatists of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) not long after the DPR declared independence in 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin framed his invasion of Ukraine as an effort to “de-Nazify” the country, so the Russian operation in Mariupol was expected to be more brutal than attacks on other Ukrainian cities.
DPR officials have accused the Azov Battalion and the Right Sector, another far-right group with neo-Nazi ties, of blocking civilians from leaving Mariupol. “Azov and Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) members are preventing people from leaving through the humanitarian corridor that we established for civilians. They are detaining people,” the DPR’s deputy militia chief said Thursday, according to Tass.
For his part, Mayor Boychenko blamed Russia for preventing civilians from fleeing Mariupol by targeting transportation infrastructure. He said Russian troops damaged the rail link “so that we could not evacuate our women, children, and elderly people.”
Ukraine and Russia held talks in Belarus on Thursday and agreed to establish humanitarian corridors to help evacuate civilians from conflict zones in Ukraine.