Explainer: Mariupol a strategic prize for Russia, symbol of resistance for Ukraine

Bestinau got that-

A view shows buildings damaged during the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 28, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

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March 30 (Reuters) – The southern Ukrainian port of Mariupol has come under heavy fire from Russian troops shortly after the war started on Feb. 24.

According to the mayor, nearly 5,000 people have died and buildings across the city have been destroyed. He said 290,000 people had fled on March 27, but at least 160,000 were still trapped without power and with little food or other supplies. read more

Why is the city so important?

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Mariupol is the largest Ukrainian city on the Sea of ​​Azov, which is connected to the Black Sea by the narrow Kerch Strait. The city takes its name from Maria Feodorovna, wife of Russian Emperor Alexander III, and is located about 70 km (43 miles) from the border with Russia. It is also a few miles from areas in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists who have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014.

Mariupol’s capture could allow Russia to create a land bridge between two separatist, self-declared people’s republics in Donbas and the Crimean region, which Russia conquered and annexed in 2014.

Conquering Mariupol would also give Russia control of Ukraine’s coast on the Sea of ​​Azov, while also trying to seal off Ukraine from the Black Sea. Russian forces have already captured the Black Sea port of Kherson, about 380 km from Mariupol, and Russia controls Crimea’s Black Sea ports.

Losing Mariupol and establishing a land corridor could give Russian forces a chance to encircle Ukrainian forces based on the line of contact around separatist-controlled territory before the war.

Capturing Mariupol would free up Russian troops trapped there for new tasks, such as fortifying other fronts.


Mariupol plays an important role for the Ukrainian economy, as the port is used for the export of iron, steel, grain and heavy machinery, an important source of income for the Ukrainian government.

It was historically an important export port for coal during Soviet times, when it was known as Zhdanov from 1948 to 1989, after a communist leader who was born there.

A senior industry official said on March 21 that Ukraine was facing a potential $6 billion loss in grain revenues as a result of the blockade of Russian ports, including Mariupol.

Countries that depend on Ukrainian wheat imports include Egypt, Turkey, and Yemen. The war is contributing to global food inflation. read more

Mariupol is also home to the Illich Iron and Steel Works, the second largest metallurgical enterprise in Ukraine, and the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, one of the largest steel rolling mills in the country.

Mariupol has deeper berths than other Ukrainian ports in the region. Controlling it could help Russia move equipment, goods and personnel between Russia, Donbas and Crimea more quickly and easily.


Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, with leaders portraying the underprivileged defenders as heroes fighting an unequal battle, similar to the biblical battle between David and Goliath.

Some foreign and Ukrainian leaders have compared the devastation in Mariupol to the devastation caused by Russian attacks on the Syrian city of Aleppo and Grozny in Russia’s troubled Chechnya region.

Mariupol would be the first major Ukrainian city to fall by the Russian invaders. Losing it would be a potentially severe psychological blow that dents Ukrainian morale.

In contrast, it could improve the mood in Russia and be held up by President Vladimir Putin as a major victory in a war that Western military experts say has largely struggled to achieve its objectives.

Russia has defamed the Azov Battalion, a far-right militia that is part of the Ukrainian National Guard and has helped defend Mariupol. One of the stated goals of Putin’s “special operation” was to “denazify” Ukraine. Western leaders say that was an unwarranted pretext for an unwarranted war, but Putin would likely view a defeat of the Azov battalion, or the capture of any fighters, as a milestone.

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Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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