Latest news on the Russian-Ukrainian border crisis: live updates
MARIUPOL, UKRAINE — For residents of this industrial port city, located 22 kilometers from the front line of Russian-backed separatists, the threat of a Russian invasion is nothing new. After eight years of conflict, some townspeople are ambivalent about the risk of escalation. Others have already prepared emergency bags to evacuate.
“In 2014, when the fighting was happening right next to the city, we packed up these things and were ready to go,” said Roman Ameliakin, a Mariupol city councilman. “Back then, we didn’t have to. But we don’t know how it will go this time. We are preparing, just in case.
Flanked by rebel fighters in the Donbass region and Russian forces to the east, and Russian ships to the south, Mariupol is a place where President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces could attack first or stage a provocation to war.
“It is quite clear that in the opening phases of a conflict, Mariupol would be subject to an offensive operation by the Russian Eighth Army, the main support of the separatist forces in the Donbass,” said Michael Kofman of the Center for Naval Analyses, a federal agency. funded research group based in Arlington, Virginia.
No one knows if or how Russia will invade. In this video, we look at satellite images and videos posted on social media that show Ukrainians here may have reason to fear. Our findings describe Russia’s unprecedented military buildup on three sides of the Ukrainian border.
On the Sea of Azov, Russian ships have blockaded the Kerch Strait since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and regularly approach within five nautical miles of Ukrainian shores, often within sight of Ukrainian maritime patrols.
“It happens all the time, and we are constantly preparing for it,” said Roman Varianitsyn, second captain of the Ukrainian Border Guard Service. “But we hope that the enemy, the Russian Federation, will not trigger open confrontation and armed aggression.”
On January 24, 2015, Grad rockets fired from separatist territory struck the eastern district of Mariupol, killing 29 civilians and injuring around 100 others. Having lived with the constant tension of war, many Mariupol residents fear the consequences of Ukraine’s resistance to Mr. Putin.
“It’s actually very scary. I go for a walk with my child and I think to myself, will I come back?” said Kateryna, a young mother shopping in the eastern district of Mariupol, who kept her surname hidden for the sake of public safety.
“I have family in Russia,” she said. “It would be better for us to resolve this conflict with Russia through diplomacy, to make concessions. Russia is strong. I believe Russia will win. And President Putin will get what he wants.
Just east of Mariupol, the seaside town of Shyrokyne is a stark reminder of the cost of war. Only a band of Ukrainian soldiers and volunteer battalions remain entrenched among the ruins. Soldiers there have fought hybrid trench warfare with Russian-backed rebels for years, blasting off with snipers, drones and mortars.
A 23-year-old commander who, for security reasons, gave only one name, Serhii, offered a grim scenario if Russia moved in with his army.
“If that happens,” he said, “it will be carnage.”