Since Russia announced several weeks ago that it would start phase 2 of the war and focus on making gains in eastern Ukraine, it has little to show for it. But Russian President Vladimir Putin is not giving up.
Most analysts agree that Putin’s military is drawing up resupply routes for the next big push.
Recently, Russia finally allowed some women, children and the elderly to leave besieged and devastated Mariupol, which sits on the Sea of Azov and was a key port city for exporting steel from Ukraine.
The once-bustling city of 465,000 people could foreshadow what Putin would like to do to every major city in Ukraine: take innocent people hostage and indiscriminately bomb their cities until the ruble bounces.
Mariupol is the scene of horrible crimes
Mariupol now resembles Aleppo, Syria, where Putin’s army also engaged in both war crimes and crimes against humanity, and got away with it.
Some 100,000 people remain scattered throughout Mariupol and lack access to basic necessities: electricity, heating, food and clean water. There is no way to go into the city and count the dead now. Some estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed.
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One thing is for sure: when the Ukrainian army finally retakes Mariupol, the world will be forced to face even more horrific crimes like Bucha’s, if not worse.
Azovstal, the city’s last great holdout, a gigantic steel plant symbolizing Ukraine’s resistance, is outnumbered but defiant. Ukrainian marines and members of their Azov battalion bravely fight to the death in the hope of trying to defend the industrial complex.
A cloud of black smoke hangs over the closed plant, product of the relentless Russian bombardment. Ordinary Ukrainians have also taken refuge at the plant, and despite numerous appeals from the Pope and other world luminaries, Putin refused to allow them safe passage. He didn’t even move on Easter Sunday.
This is the same city where a beautiful old theater housed 1,000 women and children who had lost their homes. People wrote “KIDS” in huge white letters on the ground at the entrance and exit of the theater, hoping that human decency might cast doubt as the Russian pilots wondered whether to follow their orders and bomb the theater. But the theater was destroyed.
May 9, Victory Day
On May 1, the shelling briefly ceased for the first time in more than 60 days and some 100 civilians were allowed to leave the plant, in a deal brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations. As soon as the bus carrying the innocents left, the shooting resumed.
This past Saturday the evacuation of all women, children and elderly people from the plant was completed.
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The Azovstal and Mariupol factory may fall at any moment, and their defeat cannot come soon enough for the aging autocrat in Moscow. Putin needs something to brag about on Monday, the biggest holiday on the Russian calendar. On Victory Day, the country celebrates the defeat of the Soviet Union over Nazism.
Putin normally gives a militaristic speech, beating his chest. Some expect him to declare war and a mass mobilization on the holiday, although Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has strongly denied the rumour.
The bottom line is that Putin miscalculated on February 24 when he again ordered his troops to invade Ukraine. He thought he would be in and out in a matter of days. The country would fall easily. He would replace Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a Russian stooge. What he did not bet was that the Ukrainian nation resist.
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Russia is reeling: Putin’s troops have seized a single major city and suffered heavy casualties. Putin is also an international pariah, and his country suffers from heavy sanctions.
So far, Putin has failed to realize his goals. Ukraine remains a sovereign nation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will soon have new members, and the West is united as never before against the Russian threat.
Putin is not intimidated
Still, Putin is undeterred and his army continues to rampage through Ukraine. The situation is dire and only getting worse for ordinary people. Twelve million Ukrainians have left their homes, 5.7 million to neighboring countries and 6.5 million are displaced within Ukraine.
The United Nations expects 8 million Ukrainians to leave the country by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, as humanitarian needs mount, international aid remains stuck in warehouses as many major relief organizations are unable to move goods across the country. They have not started yet, while the humanitarian crisis is already serious. They foolishly refuse to work with trusted Ukrainian partners who can easily bring relief efforts to needy hands. We need to put more pressure on humanitarian organizations to comply now.
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Since Americans give generously, they should donate only to organizations that can deliver. Razom, an American charity based in New York City, does. The same goes for HelpUkraine.Center.
The courage that Ukrainians show on a daily basis has already shocked the world and, indeed, the Ukrainians themselves. Still, Ukraine needs the world to stand up for it, talk about it, and keep it in the headlines for as long as it takes.
Melinda Haring is the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. Andrey Stavnitser is the CEO of TIS and HelpUkraine.Center
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Victory Day: Russia has failed even as Mariupol is destroyed