Series of explosions in Mariupol: can Ukraine deal a sensitive blow?

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A view of the Azovstal site in Mariupol
NOS News
  • Chiem Balduk

    Foreign editor

Ukraine says it has been able to carry out successful attacks on Russian targets in Mariupol for days. In the Ukrainian port city, which is occupied by Russia, there have been at least fourteen explosions in a week, according to the British Ministry of Defense. The attacks lead to unrest among the Russian occupation authorities and the local population.

According to the Ukrainian administration of the city, which is in exile, ammunition depots, combat vehicles and the airport have been attacked in recent days. At least fifty Russians would also have been eliminated. The attacks on Mariupol could frustrate the supply of new weapons to the front, Kyiv said.

Russia has not confirmed the attacks. According to the local occupation administration, two Ukrainian drones over Mariupol have been disabled. However, the Russian-appointed leader of the Donetsk region does not rule out the possibility of Ukraine attacking the city.

The Ukrainian claims cannot be verified due to a lack of reliable images and independent journalists. Residents of the city confirm to NOS that explosions are taking place. “These are huge bangs, which really make the soil vibrate,” says resident Olga (full name known to the editors). According to her, these are very targeted attacks.

Out of Himars range

It is not clear how Ukraine managed to hit the targets in Mariupol. The front is quite far, some 50 miles, from the battered port city, putting it out of the current range of Himars missile systems. The US announced delivery of more advanced GLSDB missiles early this month. Mariupol can be reached with this, but it is unclear whether Ukraine already has GLSDB missiles.

The expectations of the GLSDB, short for ground-launched small diameter bomb, are high. It would double Ukraine’s range, plus GLSDB can hit the target to within one metre.

This map shows how far the missiles can go:

The scope of the GLSDB systems

Another option is the deployment of long-range drones, which have historically been used to attack Russian military air bases deep in the country. In any case, it is likely that there is cooperation with residents of Mariupol, who pass on the locations of targets to the Ukrainian armed forces via specially designed apps. In recent months, Ukraine has regularly been able to target targets in occupied territory in this way.

The attacks are a blow to Moscow. Mariupol is the largest (and only major) city that Russia has controlled after one year of war. The other major city in the south, Kherson, was liberated in November. The Kremlin is therefore keen to keep control of the city.

The port city has an important logistical function, as a hub between Russia and the occupied Donbas region and Crimea. Other routes are further north of the city, and therefore closer to the front. The British Ministry of Defense therefore expects the explosions to cause great concern in the Kremlin, as outlined in the daily update of the war in Ukraine.

Relative calm

Last May, Mariupol finally fell into Russian hands after a weeks-long siege. The city was largely destroyed and the number of casualties can only be guessed at. Estimates of the death toll run into the tens of thousands.

In recent months it has been relatively quiet in the city, because Mariupol is located far from the front and the Ukrainian resistance in the city has been eliminated. It is estimated that about a quarter of the original population still lives in Mariupol. Russia is engaged in a major demolition operation in the city and the reconstruction of destroyed flats, a prestige project of the Russians.

The recent explosions are also causing unrest among the local population. “This brings back the war in Mariupol,” one resident told Telegram. According to Olga, the attacks are causing a new exodus from the city, of people traveling to Russia. “There are also a lot of pro-Russian people in the city now, who don’t want the Ukrainians to come back.” Among them are also Russians who have just moved to Mariupol after last year’s conquest.

Resident Olga, on the other hand, gets hope from the recent attacks. “I see the explosions as the beginning of approaching freedom. This could be the beginning of the Ukrainian counter-offensive.”

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  • Abroad

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