The Pentagon assesses that Mariupol remains contested amid Russia’s bombardment of the strategically important port city, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
“Our assessment today is that Mariupol is still contested and that the Ukrainians are still fighting to defend Mariupol from the Russian seizure of it,” Kirby said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday. “You’ve seen images yourself, you’ve seen the devastation that Russian airstrikes have wrought on Mariupol and the city, but our assessment is the Ukrainians are still fighting for it.”
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said in an interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar on Tuesday that the city is under siege and blockaded. Independent estimates of casualties from the city are not available. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said "tens of thousands" have died in Mariupol.
Kirby said that the Russians want to seize Mariupol because of its “strategic location” as a major port city as the Kremlin has intensified its focus on eastern and southern Ukraine.
“It would provide them unfettered and unhindered land access between the Donbas and Crimea,” Kirby said. “Because it’s to the south of the Donbas area, if in fact what they say is true that they want to secure for themselves that Donbas area — that area they claim is a predominantly, basically Russian provinces — then Mariupol from a geographic perspective, you can understand why that would be important to them in terms of their efforts in the Donbas.”
But Kirby said that the city is significant to Ukraine, too, because of “what it represents to their economic lifeblood.”
“It’s their city and its part of their country and they haven’t given up on it,” he said.