In Mariupol, echoes of history, utter devastation and a last stand

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In Mariupol, echoes of history, utter devastation and a last stand

By Anthony FaiolaMichael Birnbaum and Mary Ilyushina Today at 2:06 p.m. EDTListen to article11 min

A man walks near damaged buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 22. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

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On a proud June morning in 2014, Ukrainian forces restored their flag over Mariupol’s city hall to rousing choruses of the national anthem. For weeks, they had engaged pro-Russian separatists in a fight for control of a port city with immense strategic importance. The loss of Mariupol, an industrial center on the Sea of Azov, would have risked losing control of a swath of eastern and southern Ukraine — a prize that Russian President Vladimir Putin desperately sought.Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for the latest updates on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Now, after nearly a decade on the front lines of what had been a low-grade war, Mariupol’s de facto fall to Russian forces stands as a landmark moment in Moscow’s full-scale invasion. In a war marked by Russia’s underperformance, by its inability to take Kyiv and its failed attempt to decapitate the Ukrainian leadership, control of the devastated metropolis amounts to a significant and horrific Kremlin victory.

The fight is not over. Civilians and Ukrainian fighters — including combatants from the Azov Regiment, the same nationalist unit that helped wrest back the city in 2014 — remain hunkered down in a dramatic last stand at the sprawling Azovstal Iron and Steel Works.

Outside the Soviet-era factory’s labyrinthine halls and underground tunnels and chambers, there is little left to defend.

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