Men and officers from Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade in Mariupol attempted a dramatic night-time break-out to friendly lines through a Russian Federation encirclement, leaving fighters from the National Guard Azov Regiment to continue a last-ditch defense of the city’s factory district, news reports and unit statements said on Wednesday, April 13.
A column of Ukraine Armed Forces (UAF) Marine combat vehicles and trucks, led by Brigade Commander Volodymyr Baranyuk, pushed north from the embattled city shortly after dark on Tuesday. RF forces fired on the column, whose members broke up into small groups, a 36 Marine Brigade statement said.
The fate of Baranyuk and his men was not known on Wednesday morning, but some members of the escape column had been killed or captured, the statement said.
It was not clear from the statement or other reports how many Marines were in the escape column. Monday morning reports on the UAF fighters’ progress were conflicting, with some Ukrainian social media asserting most Marines had made it to safety, and RF state media claiming the Marines all were killed or captured.
The break-out attempt took place simultaneously with a battle in the center of Mariupol between RF forces and Marines wanting to stay in the city and fight to the last. According to 36 Brigade and Azov Regiment statements, the stay-behind Marines broke through RF positions the city’s central and Primorsky districts to link up with Azov Regiment combatants holding the Azovstal steel mill, in Mariupol’s industrial district.
“Azov officers planned and brilliantly carried out a daring special operation to withdraw…Marines who wanted to continue defending Mariupol and who numbered several hundred, led by one of the two commanders of the 36th Brigade, plus soldiers from other units,” an Azov Regiment statement said.
Social media videos by two Marines generally confirmed that part of 36 Brigade attempted a break out, while other members chose to join Azov Regiment and fight on. It was not clear from reports how many defenders were left to man industrial district positions.
The volunteer Azov Regiment, whose members are mostly drawn from Mariupol or towns and villages around the city, have conducted a vicious defense of the city’s eastern industrial district throughout the now 45-day long RF siege of the city. Together with the Marines and smaller contingents of UAF police, special forces infantry and border troops, the initial defense force of Mariupol originally numbered between 9-10,000 men and women, according to news reports.
The UAF’s vicious defense of Mariupol for more than a month and a half threw a monkey wrench in RF plans for a quick conquest of south Ukraine by tying down RF forces and inflicting heavy casualties on RF units forced to advance into the city in bloody house-to-house fighting. RF forces have gradually tightened a siege ring around UAF lines and employed massive artillery and air strikes to wear down defenses.
According to Mariupol city officials, more than 10,000 civilians have died in the battles, and at least two hundred thousand residents of the city have become refugees. Between 80 and 90 percent of the buildings in the city are destroyed, those officials said.
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