Putin Marks Victory Day as Russia Eyes Ukraine's Mariupol

Hoping for a win on Victory Day, which marks Russia's triumph over Nazi Germany, Putin is determined to topple Mariupol's last stronghold, where 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are making their last stand to save the port city

Smoke rises above the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant in Mariupol, in May.
Smoke rises above the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant in Mariupol, in May.Credit: ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/ REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that Russia's intervention in Ukraine had been necessary because the West was "preparing for the invasion of our land, including Crimea".

The Russian leader gave a speech commemorating Victory Day in Moscow, as his troops continue their assault on Ukraine, targeting the port city of Mariupol.

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During his speech Putin evoked the memory of Soviet heroism in World War Two to urge his army towards victory in Ukraine.

Addressing massed ranks of service personnel on Red Square, he directly addressed soldiers fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which Russia has pledged to "liberate" from Kyiv's control.

"You are fighting for the Motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War Two. So that there is no place in the world for executioners, punishers and Nazis," he said.

But his 11-minute speech was largely notable for what he did not say. He did not mention Ukraine by name, gave no assessment of progress in the war and offered no indication of how long it might continue. There was no mention of the bloody battle for Mariupol, where Ukrainian defenders holed up in the ruins of the Azovstal steel works are still defying Russia's assault.

Determined to show a success in a war now in its 11th week, Russian troops have targeted a sprawling seaside steel mill where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters were making what appeared to be their last stand to save Mariupol from falling.

The mill is the only part of the city not overtaken by the invaders, and its defeat would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that worsening attacks could be linked to Victory Day, which marks Russia’s greatest triumph, over Nazi Germany in 1945. Russian President Vladimir Putin may want to proclaim a win in Ukraine when he addresses troops parading on Red Square.

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People eat after arriving from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol at a center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Tuesday.Credit: Evgeniy Maloletka /AP

“They have nothing to celebrate,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said of the Russians, speaking on CNN. “They have not succeeded in defeating the Ukrainians. They have not succeeded in dividing the world or dividing NATO. And they have only succeeded in isolating themselves internationally and becoming a pariah state around the globe.”

Though fighting continues on multiple fronts, Russia is closest to victory in Mariupol.

Ukrainian fighters in the steel mill have rejected deadlines set by the Russians for laying down their arms even as attacks continued by warplanes, artillery and tanks.

“We are under constant shelling,” said Capt. Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment, a unit holding the steel mill.

Lt. Illya Samoilenko, another member of the Azov Regiment, said there were a couple of hundred wounded soldiers at the plant but declined to reveal how many able-bodied fighters remained. He said fighters didn’t have lifesaving equipment and had to dig by hand to free people from bunkers that had collapsed under the shelling.

“Surrender for us is unacceptable because we cannot grant such a gift to the enemy,” Samoilenko said.

The last of the civilians taking shelter with fighters at the plant were evacuated Saturday. They arrived Sunday night in Zaporizhzhia, the first major Ukrainian city beyond the front lines, and spoke of constant shelling, dwindling food, ubiquitous mold — and using hand sanitizer for cooking fuel.

As Victory Day neared and the spotlight turned to Putin, Western leaders showed new signs of support for Ukraine.

The Group of Seven industrial democracies pledged to ban or phase out imports of Russian oil. The G-7 consists of the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Japan.

The United States also announced new sanctions against Russia, cutting off Western advertising from Russia’s three biggest TV stations, banning U.S. accounting and consulting firms from providing services, and cutting off Russia’s industrial sector from wood products, industrial engines, boilers and bulldozers.

The acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Kristina Kvien, posted a picture of herself at the American Embassy, and described plans for the eventual U.S. return to the Ukrainian capital after Moscow’s forces abandoned their effort to storm Kyiv weeks ago and began focusing on the capture of the Donbas.

Zelenskyy released a video address marking the day of the Allied victory in Europe 77 years ago, drawing parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the evils of Nazism. The black-and-white footage showed Zelenskyy standing in front of a ruined apartment block in Borodyanka, a Kyiv suburb.

Zelenskyy said that generations of Ukrainians understood the significance of the words “Never again,” a phrase often used as a vow not to allow a repeat of the horrors of the Holocaust.

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