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Ukraine: 30 Dead in Mariupol, Separatists Announce They Have Launched Offensive

Translated Monday 26 January 2015, by Gene Zbikowski

On Jan. 24, the pro-Russian separatists announced that they had launched an offensive against the strategic port city of Mariupol, the last big East Ukrainian city controlled by Kiev. At least 30 civilians died in the shelling on Jan. 24, according to local authorities.

Agence France Presse. “The offensive on Mariupol began today,” Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic stated. The conquest of this industrial city of 500,000 would create a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea, which was annexed in March but which remains greatly dependent on Kiev for its supply of water, electricity and foodstuffs.

For his part, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko stated in a press release that his country was going to fight until “total victory” against the pro-Russian separatists. Federica Mogherini, representing European diplomacy, warned that this escalation would “inevitably engender a serious deterioration in EU-Russian relations.” Russia has already been severely struck by European and American sanctions, but Russia denies any involvement in the conflict.

In Kiev, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk demanded an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. He appealed to the international community to “stop the Russian aggressor who is threatening the Ukraine, Europe, and world security.” Bombardments by Grad multiple rocket launchers on a heavily populated Mariupol neighborhood killed 30 people according to town hall, which emphasized that the toll might rise.

Up until now, this industrial city located on the shores of the sea of Azov has been spared the fighting which broke out sporadically in its vicinity. The bloody attack on a Mariupol neighborhood comes a few days after the Ukrainian army relinquished the highly symbolic Donetsk airport and marks a turning point in the conflict which in nine months has cost over 5,000 people their lives.

An escalation of the conflict

“This is a new stage in the escalation of the conflict. The goal of this attack is to discredit the Ukrainian government and to arouse protests in cities lying close to the front line,” Oleksiy Melnik, an analyst at the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov (a non-governmental public policy think tank), explained in response to the Agence France Presse.

For Olexander Souchko, the director of the Kiev-based Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Mariupol, which is home to two major Ukrainian metal-working factories and is the point of transit for most of the region’s imports and exports, “is of strategic importance.”

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