Fight for Mariupol


20 Days in Mariupol has won an academy award for best feature documentary. It tells the story of fight for city as result of the Russian occupation. It is a city in Donetsk Oblast, It is situated on the northern coast (Pryazovia) of the Sea of Azov, at the mouth of the Kalmius River. It is the second-largest city in Donetsk Oblast, with an estimated population of 425,681 people in January 2022. Mariupol has been occupied by Russian forces since May 2022.

Historically, the city of Mariupol was a centre for trade and manufacturing and played a key role in the development of higher education and many businesses and also served as a coastal resort on the Sea of Azov. In 1948, Mariupol was renamed Zhdanov after Andrei Zhdanov, a native of the city who had become a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and a close ally to Joseph Stalin. The name was part of a larger effort to rename cities after high-ranking political figures in the Soviet Union. The historic name was restored in 1989.

In 2002, ethnic Ukrainians made up the largest percentage (48.7%) but less than half of the population; the second greatest ethnicity was Russian (44.4%). A June–July 2017 survey indicated that Ukrainians had grown to 59% of Mariupol’s population and the Russian share had dropped to 33%

Mariupol was founded on the site of a former encampment for Cossacks, known as Kalmius, and was granted city rights within the Russian Empire in 1778.It played a key role in Stalin-era industrialization; it was a centre for grain trade, metallurgy, and heavy engineering—including the Illich Iron and Steel Works and the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works.

The Russian fight over the Donbas is rooted in political interests with a history of territorial exchanges. The Ukraine’s origin is centered in Salvic state known as Kievan Rus which was later engulfed in the Mongul invasion of the region.

The region was controlled by Ottoman other empires and finally became a part of the Russian Empire. After World War I and the fall of the Czarist Empire, a Parliament convened in Kyiv and proclaimed the independence of Ukraine People’s Republic in November 1917, which then became Soviet Republic under the USSR and gained its independence after the break of the Soviet Union.

There was a nationalist revolt in Kyiv in 2013 known as the Orange revolution to oppose the government’s establishment of closer ties with Russia resulting in the establishment of an anti-Russian government. This created a rift within Ukraine between some non-ethnic Ukrainian regions still having loyalties to Russia. Russia took advantage of this internal dissension and by occupying and then annexed the Turkic Crimea region in 2014 which led to a revolt in the Donbas region. Russia has been funding the rebel forces in the region and entered territory by recognizing and then defending the Luhansk and Donetsk independent republics.

Russia also claims that the Ukraine in in league with noe-Nazi forces. The Azov Assault Brigade is a formation of the National Guard of Ukraine formerly based in Mariupol, in the coastal region of the Sea of Azov, from which it derives its name. It was founded in May 2014 as the Azov Battalionself-funded volunteer militia under the command of Andriy Biletsky, to fight Russian-backed forces in the Donbas War. It was formally incorporated into the National Guard on 11 November 2014, and redesignated Special Operations Detachment “Azov”,]also known as the Azov Regiment. In February 2023, the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that Azov was to be expanded as a brigade of the new Offensive Guard. The unit has drawn controversy over its early and allegedly continuing association with far-right groups and neo-Nazi ideology, its use of controversial symbols linked to Nazism, and early allegations that members of the unit participated in human rights violations. Some experts have been critical of the regiment’s role within the larger Azov Movement, a political umbrella group made up of veterans and organizations linked to Azov, and its possible far-right political ambitions, despite claims of the regiment’s depoliticization. Others argue that the regiment has changed, tempering its far-right underpinnings as it became part of the National Guard. The Azov Regiment has been a recurring theme of Russian propaganda. The unit has been designated a terrorist group by Russia since August 2022.[23]

From the 12th through the 16th century, the area around Mariupol was largely devastated and depopulated by intense conflict between the Crimean Tatars, the Nogay Horde, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and Muscovy. By the middle of the 15th century much of the region north of the Black and Azov Seas was annexed by the Crimean Khanate and became a dependency of the Ottoman Empire. East of the Dnieper River a desolate steppe stretched to the Sea of Azov, where lack of water made early settlement precarious.[10] Being near the Muravsky Trail exposed it to frequent Crimean–Nogai slave raids and plundering by Tatar tribes, preventing permanent settlement and keeping it sparsely populated, or even entirely uninhabited, under Tatar rule. Hence it was known as the Wild Fields or the ‘Deserted Plains. In this region of Eurasian steppes, the Cossacks emerged as a distinct people in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Below the Dnieper Rapids were the Zaporozhian Cossacksfreebooters organized into small, loosely-knit, and highly mobile groups who were both livestock farmers and nomads. The Cossacks would regularly penetrate the steppe to fish and hunt, as well as for migratory farming and to herd livestock. Their independence from governmental and landowner authority attracted to join them many peasants and serfs fleeing the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Grand Duchy of Moscow.

The Treaty of Constantinople in 1700 further isolated the region, as it stipulated that there should be no settlements or fortifications on the coast of the Azov Sea to the mouth of the Mius River. In 1709, in response to a Cossack alliance with Sweden against Russia, Tsar Peter the Great ordered the liquidation of the Zaporozhian Sich, and their complete and permanent expulsion from the area. In 1733, Russia was preparing for a new military campaign against the Ottoman Empire and therefore allowed the return of the Zaporozhians, although the territory officially belonged to Turkey.

Under the Agreement of Lubny of 1734, the Zaporozhians regained all their former lands, and in return, were to serve in the Russian army in war. They were also permitted to build a new stockade on the Dnieper River called New Sich, though the terms prohibited them from erecting fortifications. These terms allowed only for living quarters, in Ukrainian called kureni.

Upon their return, the Zaporozhian population in these lands was extremely sparse, so effort to establish a measure of control, they introduced a structure of districts or palankas. The nearest district to modern Mariupol was the Kalmius District, but its border did not extend to the mouth of the Kalmius River,] although this area had been part of its migratory territory. After 1736, the Zaporozhian Cossacks and the Don Cossacks came into conflict over the area, until Tsarina Elizabeth issued a decree in 1746 declaring the Kalmius River the dividing line between the two Cossack hosts.

Sometime after 1738, the treaties of Belgrade and Niš in 1739, in addition to the Russian-Turkish convention of 1741, as well as the following likely concurrent land survey of 1743–1746, the Zaporzhian Cossacks established a military outpost on “the high promontory on the right bank of the Kalmius river. Though the details of its construction and history are obscure, excavations have revealed Cossack artifacts, including others. The outpost was likely a modest structure in that it lay within the territory of the Ottoman Empire, and the erection of fortifications on the Sea of Azov was prohibited by the Treaty of Niš.

The last Tatar raid, launched in 1769, covered a vast area, overrunning the New Russian Province with a huge army in severe wintertime weather.[23][24] The raid destroyed the Kalmius fortifications and burned all the Cossack winter lodgings.[21] In 1770, the Russian government, during the war with Turkey, moved its border with the Crimean Khanate southwest by more than two hundred kilometres. This action initiated the Dnieper fortified line (running from today’s Zaporizhzhia to Novopetrovka), thereby laying claim to the region, including the site of future Mariupol, from the Ottoman Empire.

Following the victory of the Russian forces, the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca eliminated the endemic threat from Crimea. In 1775, Zaporizhzhia was incorporated into the New Russian Governorate, and part of the land claimed behind the Dnieper fortified line including modern Mariupol was incorporated in the newly re-established Azov Governorate.

After the Russo-Turkish War from 1768 to 1774, the governor of the Azov Governorate, Vasily A. Chertkov, reported to Grigory Potemkin on 23 February 1776 that ruins of ancient domakhas (homes) had been found in the area, and in 1778 he planned the new town of Pavlovsk. However, on 29 September 1779, the city of Marianοpol (Greek: Μαριανόπολη) in Kalmius County was founded on the site. For the Russian authorities the city was named after the Russian Empress Maria Feodorovna; its de facto title came from after the Greek settlement of Mariampol, a suburb of Bakhchysarai in Crimea. The name was derived from the Hodegetria icon of the Holy Theotokos and the Virgin Mary. Subsequently, in 1780, Russian authorities forcibly relocated many Orthodox Greeks from Crimea to the Mariupol area, in what is known as the Emigration of Christians from the Crimea.

In 1782, Mariupol was an administrative seat of its county in the Azov Governorate of the Russian Empire, with 2,948 inhabitants. In the early 19th century, a customs house, a church-parish school, a port authority building, a county religious school, and two privately founded girls’ schools were built. By the 1850s the population had grown to 4,600 and the city had 120 shops and 15 wine cellars. In 1869, consuls and vice-consuls of Prussia, Sweden, Norway, Austria-Hungary, the Roman States, Italy, and France established their representative offices in Mariupol. After the construction of the railway line from Yuzovka (later Stalino and Donetsk) to Mariupol in 1882, much of the wheat grown in the Yekaterinoslav Governorate and coal from the Donets Basin were exported via the port of Mariupol (the second largest in the South Russian Empire after Odesa), which served as a key funding source for opening a hospital, public library, electric power station and urban water supply system.

Mariupol remained a local trading centre until 1898, when the Belgian subsidiary SA Providence Russe opened a steelworks in Sartana, a village near Mariupol (now the Ilyich Steel & Iron Works). The company incurred heavy losses and by 1902 was bankrupt, owing 6 million francs to the Providence company and needing to be re-financed by the Banque de l’Union Parisienne. The mills brought cultural diversity to Mariupol as immigrants, mostly peasants from all over the empire, moved to the city looking for a job and a better life. The number of workers increased to 5,400.

In 1914, the population of Mariupol reached 58,000. However, the period from 1917 onwards saw a continuous decline in population and industry due to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Russian Civil War. In 1933, a new steelworks (Azovstal) was built along the Kalmius River.

During World War II, the city was under German military occupation from 8 October 1941, to 10 September 1943. During this time, the city suffered tremendous material damage and great loss of life. The Germans shot approximately 10,000 inhabitants, sent nearly 50,000 young men and girls as forced laborers to Germany and deported 36,000 prisoners to concentration camps.

During the occupation, the Germans focused on “the complete and quick destruction” of Mariupol’s Jewish population, as part of the Holocaust. The execution of the Jews of Mariupol was carried out by Sonderkommando 10A, which was part of Einsatzgruppe D. The leader was Obersturmbannführer Heinz Seetzen. The Germans shot about 8,000 Mariupol Jews from 20 October 1941, to 21 October 1941. By 21 November 1941, Mariupol was declared Jew-free.

The “Menorah memorial“, or officially, the Mariupol Memorial to the Murdered Jews[39] is installed in a suburb of Mariupol in memory to the murdered Jews of the city.[40][41] The work consists of a seven-pointed menorah, a Star of David and two commemorative steles with inscriptions in Russian:[39][42]

Victims of the fascist genocide were shot here – the Jews of Mariupol. October 1941. May their souls be connected with the living[a]

I will give in my house and within my walls a place and a name preferable to sons and daughters; I will give them an eternal name” (Isaiah 56:5)

The Choral Synagogue of Mariupol was reportedly undamaged during the hostilities. Reportedly, the Germans opened a hospital in the building, and when they retreated, tried to set fire to it.[43]

The Germans operated four transit camps for prisoners of war in Mariupol, consecutively Dulag 152 in 1941–1942, Dulag 172 in 1942, Dulag 190 in 1942–1943 and Dulag 201 in 1943, as well a subcamp of the Stalag 368 POW camp in 1943.[44] Mariupol was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on 10 September 1943. In 1948, Mariupol was renamed “Zhdanov”, after the recently deceased close Stalin ally Andrei Zhdanov, who had been born in the city. The historic name of the city “Mariupol” was restored in 1989 after a popular grassroots movement advocated for the name change.[45]

Following the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity in 2014, pro-Russian movements and protests erupted across eastern Ukraine, including Mariupol. This unrest later evolved into the Russo-Ukrainian War between the Ukrainian government and Russia together with the separatist forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). In May of that year, a battle between the two sides broke out in Mariupol after it briefly came under DPR control. On 13 June 2014, the city was recaptured by government forces, and, in June 2015, Mariupol was proclaimed the temporary administrative centre of Donetsk Oblast until the city of Donetsk could be recaptured by the Ukrainian forces. The city remained peaceful until the end of August 2014, when DPR separatists together with a detachment of the Russian Armed Forces captured Novoazovsk, located 45 kilometres (28 mi) east of Mariupol near the Russo-Ukrainian border. This followed an offensive by pro-Russian forces from the east, which came within 16 kilometres (10 mi) of Mariupol, before an overnight counter-offensive pushed the separatists away from the city. In September, the two sides agreed to a ceasefire, halting that offensive. Minor skirmishes continued on the outskirts of Mariupol in the following months.

rocket attack on Mariupol was launched on 24 January 2015 by the Donetsk People’s Republic,[51] from the village of Shyrokyne around 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) east of Mariupol city limits. Grad rockets fired by separatist forces hit residential areas of Mariupol, killing at least 30 people. A Bellingcat investigative team concluded that the shelling was instructed, directed and supervised by Russian military commanders in active service with the Russian Ministry of Defence.] The attack exposed the city’s vulnerability to separatist attacks. As a result, in February 2015, Ukrainian forces launched an surprise assault on Shyrokyne, forcing the separatists out from Shyrokyne and neighbouring villages by July 2015.

In May 2018, the Crimean Bridge was opened, linking mainland Russia to Crimea, which had been annexed in 2014 in the opening stages of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Russia “dramatically increased” the number of armed vessels in the Kerch Strait in 2018, and cargo ships bound for Mariupol found themselves subject to inspections by Russian authorities, resulting in delays of up to a week. Therefore, Mariupol port workers were put on a four-day week schedule. On 26 October 2018, The Globe and Mail reported that the bridge had reduced Ukrainian shipping from its Azov Sea ports (including Mariupol) by about 25%.

During the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine of 2022, Mariupol was a strategic target for Russian forces and their proxies. It came under artillery bombardment the day the invasion began,[60] and was placed under siege by Russian forces. By early March, a severe humanitarian crisis developed in the city, which a Red Cross worker later described as “apocalyptic”, citing food shortages and severe damage to infrastructure and access to sanitation. The siege was also marked by numerous war crimes committed by Russian forces, most notably Russian airstrikes on a maternity hospital and a drama theater serving as an air raid shelter for hundreds of civilians.

By late April, Russian and separatist troops had pushed deep into most of the city, separating the last Ukrainian troops from the few pockets of Ukrainian troops retreating into the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, which contains a complex of bunkers and tunnels which could even resist a nuclear bombing.[69] Ukrainian troops in Azovstal held out until 16 May 2022, when its last troops from the Azovstal Steel Plant surrendered and the city fell into Russian control.

When the fighting stopped, “as many as 90%” of residential buildings in Mariupol had been damaged or destroyed, according to the United Nations (UN) and Ukrainian authorities. Estimates for the number of civilian dead ranged from the UN’s list of 1,348 confirmed deaths to the Ukrainian claim of over 25,000. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky awarded Mariupol the title of Hero City of Ukraine due to Ukrainian forces’ “valiant defense” of the city.

In the months after they took control of the city, Russian authorities had many damaged buildings torn down, sometimes evicting the remaining residents. Some new housing was also built. Associated Press described this ongoing process as an effort to “eradicat[e] all vestiges of Ukraine” and to cover up “the evidence of war crimes”. Local schools started using a Russian curriculum, the television and radio broadcasts switched to Russian, and many street names were replaced by their Soviet-era names.[79] The latter was especially controversial, as the Ukrainian authorities restored many historic names during the decommunization process, all of which predated the Soviet Union. Among other toponyms, “Freedom Square” was renamed “Lenin Square”.

In August 2023, the Institute for the Study of War reported that the Ukrainian Resistance Center had claimed to have gained access to documents detailing Russian plans to conduct a decade-long ethnic cleansing campaign in occupied Mariupol. The ISW reported that the depopulation of Ukrainians through deportation and Russian efforts to attract Russian citizens to move to the city is likely to be an ethnic cleansing campaign in addition to being apparent violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.