Witnesses reported heavy shelling north and east of Mariupol, a strategic city of about half a million people that lies on the Sea of Azov between Russia to the east and the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula to the west.
The seizure of Mariupol, which could provide a land corridor between Russia and Crimea, would give Russian-backed separatists a strong presence in the area just as talks aimed at ending the conflict are due to start later Friday in Minsk, Belarus. Representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the pro-Russian separatists and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are meeting in Minsk.
The latest fighting began around 2 p.m. Thursday, when six insurgent tanks and vehicles assaulted a Ukrainian checkpoint near the village of Shyrokyne about 14 miles east of Mariupol, soldiers on the ground said. The checkpoint was destroyed, and the Azov Battalion, Ukraine’s volunteer soldier brigade in Mariupol, fell back.
That’s on the heels of a story from last week I’d missed until just now:
Russian tanks have “destroyed virtually every house” in the town of Novosvitlivka near Luhansk, Ukraine’s military has said, as the EU considers fresh sanctions against Russia.
“We have information that virtually every house has been destroyed,” a spokesman said, without giving details on when the reported attack took place.
If the goal is to make eastern Ukraine ungovernable from Kyiv, that sort of thing ought to do it.
I’m reminded of a WWII history I read a decade or so ago, but can’t remember which one. The author examined the July ’43 Allied bombing of Hamburg and its aftermath. The city was so thoroughly destroyed — in no small part by a totally unexpected 1,500-foot-tall tornado of fire — that a postwar bombing survey found that Nagasaki hadn’t received such a beating from Fat Man in ’45. But the real crisis for the Germans, unknown to the Allies at the time, was the refugee problem. A major city had been wiped out, and the hundreds of thousand of survivors had to go somewhere, had to be fed, had to be sheltered. The author estimated that had we targeted two more cites of similar a greater size for similar destruction, the refugee crisis would have been enough to overwhelm and collapse the Nazi state — and end the war in Europe a year or more early.
How many lives could have been saved? It’s impossible to tell, but that half-forgotten book does make me wonder if Putin might be trying a smaller-scale version of victory-through-collapse in Ukraine.