Ukraine port of Mariupol braces for war

Mariupol:  Ukraine’s eastern port of Mariupol is bracing for an attack.

Army vehicles rumble down streets, windows are fortified to shield against shell damage and signs pasted to apartment blocks point people to their nearest bomb shelter. Locals fear pro-Russian separatists will unleash an assault on their city now that President Vladimir Putin has finished hosting world leaders to mark the Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany.

“Everyone’s talking about it,” said Iryna Hrynko, 40, a designer who arrived last year after fleeing the rebels’ Donetsk stronghold. “Friends back home even tell me about an attack”.

An industrial hub of half a million people, Mariupol sits on the fringe of Ukraine’s year-long insurgency, which has killed more than 6000 people and ruined Russia’s ties with its Cold War foes. An attack would bury the latest Minsk truce brokered by Russia and Germany and risk more sanctions for Mr Putin’s government. It could also reignite calls to arm Ukraine.

“If a new attack takes place, the Minsk agreements will be ultimately dead, and a new initiative at negotiating a lasting settlement – in whatever format – is unlikely for longer”, said Joerg Forbrig, senior program director at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “The US and several European Union countries will see a renewed debate on lethal arms supplies.”

Sitting just 25 kilometres from rebel positions, between Russia and the Crimean peninsula Mr Putin annexed last March, locals see reasons to be scared.

While Russia blames Ukraine for breaking the truce, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said  last week that the separatists may be readying a new offensive. International monitors saw the truce’s worst shelling in Shyrokyne in late April, saying rebels had amassed tanks and howitzers. They warned that an attempt to take Mariupol risked “disastrous consequences” for diplomatic efforts to end the crisis.

To prepare for the worst, Ukraine’s army is giving classes at schools and universities and taking people on training drills, said Dmytro Horbunov, a military spokesman in Mariupol.

“We have enough people to defend the city,” he said, citing the presence of thousands of troops. “Fortifications are built day and night. The front line is completely improved.”

Full article: Ukraine port of Mariupol braces for war (Sydney Morning Herald)

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