The southeast Ukraine city of Mariupol has been battered by Russian airstrikes in recent weeks. Among the buildings hit have been a maternity hospital, a theater and an arts school. At least 2,000 civilians have died and some 80% of homes have been destroyed, according to city officials. Some 7,000 people were evacuated by convoy from Mariupol on Tuesday.
The result is a harrowing humanitarian crisis as Ukrainians shelter in basements, and safe passage out of the city for civilians is limited and sporadic.
If Russia succeeds in controlling Mariupol, it would be a major morale boost for Russia.
That's because, according to Konaev, the campaign in Ukraine "has not been going in any way that Russia has imagined and they've encountered significant military challenges. And they haven't had a real victory since they've taken Kherson, which is nearby, and even there, it remains contested."
"So at this point, they feel that it is effectively necessary to take Mariupol in order to maintain morale and keep the campaign going," Konaev says.
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