The Russian invasion of Ukraine is entering its 59th day. After Russia decided to change its strategy to focus on the Donbas area, Mariupol has become a focus of resistance which, according to the Russian authorities, has come to an end. Russia is now redirecting its strategy southwards, aiming to conquer the separatist region of Transnistria, an enclave belonging to the Republic of Moldova.
After almost two months of siege of the city, Moscow has announced that it has taken control of Mariupol, something that the Ukrainian military continues to deny. The Azovstal metallurgical plant had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance after many Ukrainian soldiers had gathered at its facilities to confront the Russian troops.
According to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Mariupol is "under the control of the Russian army and militias of the Donetsk People's Republic". He added that "the territory of the Azovstal plant with the stronghold of nationalists and mercenaries is well blocked".
However, US President Joe Biden has been sceptical about these statements, pointing out that "there is still no evidence that Mariupol has completely fallen" and asserting that "PKU will never succeed". The mayor of the city, Vadym Boychenko, has taken the same position, arguing that Mariupol "continues to be Ukrainian".
Despite these statements, the Kremlin continues to claim that the seizure of the city is not "absolute", referring to the soldiers who are still holding out in Azovstal, as well as some 1,000 civilians. According to reports from Kiev, Putin's initial plans were to reduce the factory to ashes and kill all those inside. However, the Russian president decided to change his strategy and ordered the cancellation of the assault on the metallurgical plant, arguing that there was "no need to go into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities".
For his part, Volodomir Zelensky's advisor Oleksiy Arestovych believes that these words do not correspond to reality and actually mean that "the Russian army is not in a physical condition to take it, as they would suffer immense casualties". Even so, Russian threats persist and Zelensky himself has made public a possible route Russia could take that focuses on "capturing other countries", arguing that its new southern disposition would be 'only the beginning'.
All this comes at a time when the US has again approved a new $800 million aid package for Ukraine to enable it to provide more and better military assistance to Ukraine in the context of the invasion.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmigal has also met with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Washington, the first visit by a Ukrainian official to the country since the invasion began. In this meeting, the minister expressed the need for a larger arsenal, arguing that they urgently need "ammunition and weapons because we must stop the aggressor at our borders and not let them go to democratic Europe, to European countries". Furthermore, he reiterated that sanctions are "the most important instrument of influence on the aggressor".
In addition, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will travel to Kiev on Wednesday to meet with the Ukrainian president, a UN spokesman said. In addition to Zelensky, Guterres will meet with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to discuss "how to optimise humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine".
Since Moscow began its invasion of Ukraine, more than 200 children have reportedly died, according to the Ukrainian Children's Prosecutor's Office, and 387 have been injured. According to its figures, the highest number of children killed is in the capital, Kiev, where a total of 129 children died, followed by Donetsk (120), Kharkov (91), Chernobyl (66), Mikolaiv (40), Kherson (41), Zaporiyia (22), Yitomir (15) and Sumy (16).
This conflict is one of the most important humanitarian crises of the century on European soil. Ukraine is trying to hold out against an implacable Russia that is determined to achieve its goals, regardless of the cost in human lives.
Far from a peace settlement, diplomacy does not seem to be enough to end a devastating war that will have political, economic and human consequences that will be very difficult to resolve and, above all, to forgive.