Russia shifted a dozen crack military units from the shattered port of Mariupol to eastern Ukraine and pounded away at cities across the region, Ukrainian authorities said Friday. Russia said it would “fight to take control over all east and south of Ukraine” as the UN documented dozens of civilians killed in one town.
Russia has already claimed that it has “complete control” of Mariupol several times this week. Mariupol has taken on outsize importance in the war. Capturing it would deprive the Ukrainians of a vital port and complete a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Putin seized from Ukraine in 2014.
It would also allow Putin to throw more of his forces into the potentially climactic battle for the Donbas and its coal mines, factories and other industries, or what the Kremlin has now declared to be its main objective.
Nearly five million Ukrainians have fled the country, cities have been shattered and thousands have died since the start of the invasion on Feb 24.
Russia calls its action a special military operation to demilitarise Ukraine and eradicate what it calls dangerous nationalists. The West and Kyiv accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of unprovoked aggression.