Ukrainian soldiers 'battle in tunnels' under Mariupol with city set to fall to Russia

13 April 2022, 15:56

Destroyed buildings in Mariupol. Inset: Pro-Russian soldiers in the city
Destroyed buildings in Mariupol. Inset: Pro-Russian soldiers in the city. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Ukrainian forces in the city of Mariupol are reportedly putting up a last stand in tunnels under a huge industrial site.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The last Ukrainian soldiers resisting Russian forces in the besieged port city are said to have based themselves at Azovstal steelworks, a sprawling complex of tunnels, rail lines, warehouses and factories.

However, the fall of Mariupol, located in the Donbas and of vital strategic importance to Russia, appears inevitable following weeks of assaults.

READ MORE: Russia focuses on Ukraine region of Donbas as it says campaign is going to plan

READ MORE: Brit fighting for Ukraine 'set to surrender after running out of ammo' in Mariupol

The southern city's mayor says as many as 21,000 civilians have been killed there since it was first attacked in late February, while 100,000 are still awaiting evacuation.

It comes as Russia claims more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops have just surrendered in the port.

The country's defence ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said 1,026 troops from the Ukrainian 36th Marine Brigade surrendered, including 162 officers.

This remains unconfirmed. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych did not comment on it, but said in a Twitter post that elements of the 36th Marine Brigade had managed to link up with other Ukrainian forces - believed to be the far-right Azov battalion.

'All options are on the table' if Russia uses chemical weapons

Meanwhile, Western officials continue to probe claims that a chemical agent was used in an attack in the city.

The alarm was raised by the controversial Azov battalion, which alleged a drone dropped a poisonous substance, injuring three soldiers.

Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said while experts try to determine what the substance might be: "The world must react now."

The country's deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said it was possible phosphorus munitions, which cause horrendous burns, had been used.

Putin won't go nuclear, says think tank chief

While phosphorus is not classed as a chemical weapon, using it as an incendiary weapon near civilians is illegal.

Western leaders have warned that if chemical weapons are found to have been used, it would amount to a grievous breach of international law.

It is believed Russia wants to bring about the fall of Mariupol to free up troops for the fight in the Donbas and create a route north for the Kremlin's forces as they focus on fighting in the east.

Western officials have said Russian president Vladimir Putin will double or even possibly triple the number of Russian troops in the region as he resorts to a "diminished" invasion strategy.

Mr Putin's forces are gearing up for a major offensive in the Donbas, where Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting since 2014, and where Russia has recognised the separatists' claims of independence.