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Fighters in Mariupol have been fighting for weeks after experts said the city would fall

Tens of thousands have been killed in the southern port city, Zelenski said on Monday.

And he made it clear that this could be the most important battle of the war.

“Mariupol is the heart of this war today. Fights. We are fighting. We are strong. And if he stops beating, we will be in a weaker position.

“They are people who distract a lot of enemy forces. The stronger our position in Mariupol, the stronger our position in the eastern part of the country will be. And if they are stronger, the negotiating table will be closer and we will have advantages in the dialogue with the Russian Federation.

If Mariupol falls and the looming battle for the east unfolds, he warned, Russia will seek to gain an advantage and continue the war.

Both sides are aware of the importance of the battle.

“If and when it falls, then those forces that are engaged there are free to attack in the north to try to join those forces that are attacking south of Raisins,” a Western official said. “Now Ukrainians will face pliers effectively.”

The official said Russia would seek to “double or triple” the forces it has in Donbass before attempting the operation, and that “it will take some time to bring them to this point”.

The duration of the siege, the scale of the destruction and the bravery of the defenders of Mariupol made inevitable comparisons with Stalingrad.

But Stalingrad ended in a seemingly miraculous victory for the defenders. There is a more recent and bitter precedent that many Ukrainians will keep in mind.

In 2014 and 2015, a small number of Ukrainian soldiers struggled for months to detain the wreckage of Donetsk airport against impossible chances. They became a symbol of heroism and challenge, but the battle ended in inevitable and painful defeat.

Will Mariupol end the same way?

The siege began on March 3rd, when Russian leaders from Crimea and Donbass met and completed the siege of the port city.

Although there are rumors of secret supply routes, reinforcement has been virtually impossible since then.

The Russians quickly turned to basic utilities, including water and electricity, to make life impossible for both defenders and 400,000 or more civilians trapped in the city.

They also destroyed the communication infrastructure, making it almost impossible to talk to those trapped inside or document the reality of the battle.

For the first three weeks, Mstislav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka, two journalists from the Associated Press, continued to work under fire, sending photos and words when they could still receive a small signal.

They documented the Russian air strike that destroyed a maternity hospital, killing at least one seriously pregnant woman and her unborn child, but they had to leave when they were warned that the Russians were looking for them.

Since then, we have had to rely on rare updates from the city council and the torturous testimonies of civilians, who from time to time reach safety on the Green Corridor.