‘Mariupol won’t give up’: Ukrainians defy Russian invasion threat

Waving blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and singing a patriotic military song, hundreds of residents of the once largely pro-Russian city of Mariupol gathered in the central Theatre Square with a defiant message for President Vladimir Putin: Russia is not welcome here.

On Tuesday, as people stopped for pictures next to a sign calling Moscow an aggressor, the possibility of an advance by Russian-backed separatists was a bitter pill to swallow.

The port city of nearly 500,000 people in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine was briefly controlled by the rebels in 2014 and has seen significant waves of violence since.

“I came to show that we love Ukraine and we don’t want Russian ‘peace’ here,” said Andriy Voytsekhovskyy, 28, a painter and skater.

“I think it’s complete nonsense what Putin is doing, but Mariupol is, and always always has been, a city that doesn’t give up.”

A long Monday night saw Putin recognise the independence of the so-called breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and move what he calls peacekeeping troops in. US President Joe Biden has called it the “beginning of a Russian invasion”.

Russia has since said it will support the territorial claims of its proxy states in east Ukraine, including to parts they do not currently control, increasing the likelihood of a larger war in the near future. Putin has also asked the Duma to authorise the use of troops abroad.

Just 20km (12.4 miles) from the front line and vulnerable to attack from the Sea of Azov, the strategic port city of Mariupol is among the areas most at risk from a further escalation in fighting.

Yet a common refrain among locals is that the further you get from the front line, the more you see people panicking.

Just 20km (12.4 miles) from the front line and vulnerable to attack from the Sea of Azov, the strategic port city of Mariupol is among the areas most at risk from a further escalation in fighting.

Yet a common refrain among locals is that the further you get from the front line, the more you see people panicking.

“Being inside a war zone, there’s a sense of myopia and a very human kind of optimism that nothing is going to happen – you look at the sun shining, people are going about their daily lives. It might create a false sense of security,” said Peter Zalmayev, director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, a think-tank on post-Soviet states.

“People are used to war in Ukraine, but they’re used to it not really affecting their daily lives much. That could be about to change.”

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