Ukraine still controls its port city of Mariupol despite concerns that it might soon fall to Russia, a senior defense official told reporters Tuesday.
Mariupol has been a target for most of the nearly 50-day Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia used amphibious landing ships in the early days of the invasion to bring troops outside of the port city.
While it took the Russians longer than expected to reach Mariupol, Moscow bombarded the city with missiles, hitting a maternity hospital and residences.
“You’ve seen the devastation that Russian airstrikes have wrought on Mariupol in the city, but our assessment is that the Ukrainians are still fighting for it,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters Tuesday.
Mariupol is a strategic target because the city would give Russia control of the Sea of Azov and create a land bridge to Crimea, Kirby said. It would also help Russia with its attacks on the Donbas region, the focus of Russia’s invasion the past couple of weeks.
“So it has significance on many levels,” Kirby said. “It also has great significance to the Ukrainian people, because of what it represents to their economic life … because it is their city and it’s part of their country, and they haven’t given up on it, and we’re not giving up on them either.”
Russia continues to use airstrikes on Mariupol and the Donbas region, Kirby said. However, Moscow is also firing missiles from surface combatants in the Sea of Azov, he said, adding that it’s unclear if any have landed in Mariupol.
Russia has been supplementing its airstrikes with missiles from ships, he said.
Russia continues to have approximately a couple dozen warships in the Black Sea, with around five ships in the Sea of Azov, a senior defense official told reporters Tuesday. A mix of minesweepers and frigates are operating in the Sea of Azov, while surface combatants and landing ships are in the Black Sea.
Mariupol has been hit hard by Russian fire, with the mayor of the city telling the Associated Press that 10,000 civilians had been killed and the death toll is expected to climb.
There are reports that Moscow has used chemical weapons on the city, AP reported, but the Pentagon could not confirm this, a senior defense official said Tuesday.