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Why Is Mariupol so Important to Russia and Ukraine?

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The Ukrainian city of Mariupol is expected to fall to Russian forces within hours.

What used to be a port city and trade hub of almost half a million people now lies in ruins.

More than 20,000 civilians have reportedly died, many more have been injured, and thousands have been forced to flee.

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Ukrainian fighters have fought off Russian troops there for almost two months, but are now heavily outnumbered around their final stronghold, the Azovstal steelworks.

As President Vladimir Putin prepares to blockade the plant and capture the besieged city, Sky News looks at why Mariupol is so important to both sides.

Russia

Land corridor between Crimea and Donbas

If the Russians were to take Mariupol, they would occupy an interrupted strip of land from the Crimean Peninsula in the south, which they seized in 2014, through to the Donbas region in the east.

This would enable them to join up their troops currently stationed in the south and the north east.

It would also mean the Russians controlling 80% of the Black Sea coastline, which is vital for Ukrainian and international trade.

“From a military standpoint, Mariupol is the last area the Russians needs to secure a land corridor all the way from Russia proper to Crimea,” Ed Arnold, research fellow on European security at the defence think tank RUSI, told Sky News.

“The fact they haven’t been able to do that in 56 days is probably a major source of embarrassment for them. They weren’t expecting the amount of resistance they’ve had from the Ukrainians.”

‘Rescuing’ former Russian territory

Vladimir Putin views the entire area around the Black Sea, including Mariupol, as historically part of Russia.

The Russian Empire claimed it as Novorossiya (New Russia) in the 18th century after fighting off the Ottomans there.

Image:
Russian troops approach Mariupol in mid-April

More people in the south and east of Ukraine also speak and consider themselves ethnically Russian.

Although it has not been part of Russia since the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1991, Mr Putin wants to recreate a Soviet-style ‘sphere of influence’ there.

But the brutal nature of the war has made this more difficult, Mr Arnold says.

“The way the Russians have prosecuted this campaign has made even previously pro-Russian areas quite anti-Russian – to the extent that it’s now going to be quite difficult for them to control them.”

Image:
Vladimir Putin still considers the region around Mariupol as historically part of Russia

‘De-Nazifying Ukraine’

Mr Putin has repeatedly claimed one of Russia’s main reasons for invading Ukraine is getting rid of its government, which he says is “run by little Nazis”.

Although dismissed as absurd by many, particularly as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish, Mariupol does play into the Kremlin’s ‘anti-Nazi’ propaganda.

It’s home to a militia group called the Azov Brigade, an extreme Ukrainian nationalist group that previously had links to neo-Nazism and the far right.

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But Mr Arnold says: “They call it a brigade, but it’s only around 900 people. In reality it’s a very small part of the Ukrainian Army.

“It formed during the resistance to the Crimea operation in 2014. But it has made steps to move away from its far-right links and has merged with the wider Ukrainian National Guard.”

Capturing Mariupol would be the biggest Russian military victory of the war so far, Mr Arnold adds, and would also serve as a propaganda tool at the upcoming Russian Victory Day parade in Moscow on 9 May.

Paralysing the Ukrainian economy

Mariupol is a key port city on the Black Sea and the Azovstal steelworks, where the last remaining Ukrainian defenders are holed up, is one of the largest plants in Europe.

Image:
Smoke rises above the Azovstal steelworks

The Russian onslaught in Mariupol has decimated Ukraine’s ability to produce iron and steel but also to ship it, along with its coal and grain exports, to the rest of the world.

“The Black Sea is essentially completely blockaded by the Russians already. Ukraine can’t really do anything about that – and is having to take that huge economic hit,” Mr Arnold says.

Former air vice-marshal Sean Bell adds that Russia has tried to avoid completely destroying the steelworks or the port.

Image:
Mariupol port facilitates the export of Ukraine’s steel, coal and grain to the rest of the world

“Quite a lot of Ukrainian trade is done by sea, so naturally that’s something the Russians would like to control,” he told Sky News.

“It wants to take over infrastructure it can use, but the Ukrainian response has been so dogged, it’s had to resort to the total bombardment of its enemy and beating them into submission.”

Ukraine

Stopping Russian advance to the east

After giving up on taking Kyiv in the north, Russia rushed to move its troops south towards Mariupol and east towards the Donbas.

But while Mariupol still holds out, the Kremlin’s forces can’t commit as many soldiers to their ‘next phase’ of the war – the battle for the Donbas – as it would like.

“If the Ukrainians continue to fight, they prevent the Russians from sending their forces north,” Mr Arnold says.

“Mariupol has essentially been sacrificed to make sure the Russians can’t go elsewhere.

“The defence there will go down as one of the most significant actions of the first phase of the war, along with the battles at Hostomel Airport and Bucha, which stopped the Russians taking Kyiv.”

Showing level of Russian brutality

Around 90% of the buildings in Mariupol have been destroyed, including homes, hospitals and schools.

Image:
Debris outside a maternity hospital in Mariupol after it was hit by Russian strikes

Although devastating, the reported use of chemical weapons in the city, attacks on a maternity hospital, and a theatre being used as a civilian shelter have strengthened Western support of Ukraine.

“Mariupol has shown the Russians for who they really are – very, very brutal,” Mr Arnold says.

“The type of events we’ve seen there have affected how we in the West have viewed the conflict and the level of support we’ve given.”

Another blow to Russian morale

The Ukrainians holding out in Mariupol has proved another blow to an already extremely low morale among Russian soldiers.

Despite being one of the very first targets when the war broke out, there are still around 1,000 defenders left and the city has not yet officially fallen.

“The Russians have been fighting for two months now without a break,” Mr Arnold says.

“While some forces are coming in completely green from elsewhere, the others have just come from suffering heavy losses in the north of the country.

“Morale is as low as it possibly can be on the Russian side and that matters because both them and the Ukrainians are gearing up for quite a significant battle in the Donbas.”

Image:
A satellite image shows the damage to a Mariupol theatre in late March. Pic: Maxar

Mr Bell adds: “In Mariupol the Ukrainians have been given the dilemma of surrender or die and they’ve chosen not to surrender.

“If you’re showing that you’re not going to give in, you’re going to erode the morale of your enemy.”

Although the Ukrainians are outnumbered in troops and firepower, their experience in the Donbas over the past eight years means they still “have a chance” as they enter the next phase of the war, Mr Arnold adds.

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Original Post: news.sky.com

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WHO Estimates 15m People Have Died Directly or Indirectly From COVID – More Than Double Official Death Toll

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The World Health Organisation estimates that 15 million people worldwide have now died of coronavirus – or as a result of its impact on health services.

WHO data shows the number of excess COVID mortalities to be somewhere between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2021. This is more than double the official death toll of around six million.

Excess mortality refers to the number of people who have died of the virus either directly or indirectly by being unable to access health services for other conditions.

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The figures were compiled using country-reported data and statistical modelling, the WHO said.

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There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the UN body said on Thursday.

Most excess COVID deaths (86%) happened in Asia, Europe and the Americas, according to the figures.

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Middle-income countries accounted for 81% of deaths, with 28% occurring in upper-middle-income countries and 4% in low-income ones.

Some 68% of all excess deaths worldwide happened in just 10 countries.

There was a higher rate for men (57%) than there was for women (43%), with more excess deaths among the elderly than younger generations.

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WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented: “These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems.

“WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”

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Original Source: news.sky.com

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Pope Francis Seen Using Wheelchair for the First Time for Mobility Reasons

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The Pope has been pictured using a wheelchair – the first time he’s used one in public due to the knee pain that’s made it hard for him to walk and stand.

Francis, 85, was wheeled on stage and helped into a seat during an audience with a group of nuns and religious superiors from around the world at the Vatican.

He appears to be having a flare-up of sciatica, a nerve condition he suffers with that he’s called his “troublesome guest”.

The Pope has had to cancel or cut short activities several times in the last month because of pain in his right knee.

He was pictured in a wheelchair last July after major intestinal surgery, but this is believed to be the first time he’s used one in public due to his mobility problems.

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Before Thursday’s event, he was able to walk the roughly 10 metres or so from the side entrance of the stage to his seat with some help.

He recently received some injections to try to relieve the pain but has continued to struggle.

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His impaired movement was apparent over Easter when he attended but did not take charge of masses at St Peter’s Basilica, instead delegating a cardinal or archbishop to preside.

During a trip to Malta in April he was also pictured using an elevator platform to get on and off the plane.

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Original Article: news.sky.com

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Woman Pulled Alive From Rubble Six Days After Building Collapsed

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A woman has been found alive in the rubble of a building that partially collapsed almost six days earlier, Chinese state media has said.

At least five people are confirmed to have died and possibly dozens are still missing following the disaster in the city of Changsha, in central China‘s Hunan Province, on 29 April.

The unidentified woman has become the 10th survivor and was rescued shortly after midnight today, about 132 hours after the rear of the six-storey building suddenly caved in, the official Xinhua News Agency has reported.

The woman was conscious and told rescuers how to pull her out without causing further injury, Xinhua added.

Teams had used dogs and hand tools as well as drones and electronic life detectors in the search.

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All the survivors were reportedly in good condition after being treated in a hospital and it is thought intermittent rain showers over the last few days may have helped their chances of survival without food or water.

At least nine people have been arrested in relation to the collapse of what Xinhua has described as a “self-built building”.

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This includes its owner, on suspicion of ignoring building codes or committing other violations.

Three people in charge of design and construction were also held, along with five others who allegedly gave a false safety assessment for a guest house on the building’s fourth to sixth floors.

The building also housed residences, a cafe and shops.

Image:
An aerial photo shows the site of the collapsed residential building in Changsha, central China’s Hunan Province

There has been increase in the number of collapses of self-built buildings in recent years.

Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for additional checks to uncover structural weaknesses.

Following the building collapse at the weekend, he urged for more victims to be found in the rubble “at all costs”.

Poor adherence to safety standards, including the illegal addition of extra floors and failure to use reinforcing iron bars, is often blamed for similar disasters.

China also suffers from decaying infrastructure such as gas pipes that has led to explosions and collapses.

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Source: news.sky.com

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