Russia Ukraine War: A pro-Russian rebel leader said on Monday that separatist forces in eastern Ukraine have captured the port of the strategic city of Mariupol. According to the news agency AFP, the leader of the separatists in the Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, said in remarks on television, "With regard to the port of Mariupol, it is already under our control." However, the agency has not independently confirmed these claims.
Russian troops have besieged Mariupol on the coast of the Azov Sea for more than a month. Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s military operation there. The remaining Ukrainian forces in Mariupol are concentrated at the city’s large Azovstal metallurgical plant, said Eduard Basurin, a senior official in the Donetsk rebel stronghold.
‘Operation will now be intensified’
Earlier on Monday, Pushilin said separatist forces would intensify fighting in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has now made the region its primary target. Pushlin said in Donetsk, ‘”Now the campaign will be intensified."
Pushilin said, "Because the longer we delay, the more the civilian population will suffer hostage. We have identified areas where certain steps need to be accelerated."
Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have been in conflict with Ukrainian forces since 2014 (the year Moscow annexed Crimea). Shortly before sending troops to Ukraine on 24 February, Moscow recognized the independence of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.