Russian president must allow rescue of civilians, soldiers at steel mill

Doesn’t his statement deny the very existence of Ukrainian people who are thoroughly defending themselves against Russia? The international community must not leave unchecked the brutal words and actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which amount to war crimes.

Russia has declared that it has taken control of Mariupol, a strategic city in southeastern Ukraine. Citing the safety of Russian soldiers as a priority, Putin ordered a halt to a mop-up operation at a steel mill that serves as Ukraine’s stronghold of resistance and indicated that the mission was complete.

The situation on the ground is very different. The Ukrainians have refused to surrender and continue to fight back. Moreover, the Russian military is said to be continuing heavy airstrikes even after Putin gave his order.

The reason for the early declaration of taking control of Mariupol may be that Putin is under pressure to show the Russian people “results” of the offensive. It is also believed that he intends to reduce the number of casualties among Russian troops deployed in Mariupol and to expand the areas Russia controls by sending soldiers to other areas.

It is totally unacceptable that when Putin ordered a halt to the mop-up operation, he ordered that the steel mill be blocked off “so that a fly cannot pass through.”

The steel mill is home to a robust underground fortress built during the Soviet era that serves as the foundation for continued resistance by the Ukrainian military and armed groups. About 1,000 civilians and wounded soldiers are also said to be holed up underground.

Having been under siege for more than a month, the stocks of food and drinking water have been depleted, and no outside assistance is said to have arrived. If the situation continues as it is, it is certain that a large number of people will starve to death.

Putin’s blockade order is tantamount to instructions to bury Ukrainians alive under the rubble. This is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, which provides for the protection of civilians and wounded soldiers.

Putin also previously likened Ukrainian nationalism to Nazi Germany. It is believed that prejudice and discriminatory attitudes are giving rise to such atrocious behavior.

The top priority should be that the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations and other aid organizations enter the region to evacuate civilians and provide aid supplies.

To do so, a ceasefire — even a short-term one — must be achieved along the route connecting Ukrainian-controlled areas with Mariupol. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for such a “humanitarian ceasefire.” Japan should also support the move to enhance calls from the international community.

Putin is poised to step up the offensive in eastern Ukraine with a view to declaring “victory” on May 9, which is Victory Day celebrating the win against Nazi Germany. The United States and Europe need to further strengthen their military support for Ukraine.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 23, 2022)