Prof. Vladimir Golstein: The Tragedy Called Mariupol

Mariupol is an important port on the Sea of Azov, located very close to the self-proclaimed independent Donetsk Republic on the one side and Crimea on another.

In 2014, when Donetsk forces, helped by Russians, no doubt, were at the outskirts of Mariupol, they suddenly decided to pull back. Was the military resistance too strong? Was it a deal with local oligarch, Renat Akhmetov, or with Kolomoisky — the oligarch behind Zelensky — who was very active in organizing his Azov battalions then, securing the access to ports and sea? We remember how he secured his control of Odessa, don’t we? I don’t know what was going in Mariupol then; whatever it was, it was either a tragic mistake or a cynical miscalculation, or both, for which thousands of lives are being paid now.

So what is going on in this city, and why Zelensky keeps on talking about unspeakable Russian crimes committed there?

For starters, we don’t know. My Ukrainian friends, whose relatives are in Mariupol, report that practically from the very start of the war, the connection with the city was broken, and they don’t hear anything! Nothing at all! This is important. Whatever reports we hear, comes from Ukrainians, sitting in Kiev or Lviv, or from Russians who are in Rostov or who follow Russian army.

So in the absence of steady stream of news from the city, we are left with official propaganda, as the city is being slowly destroyed, both the dwellings and the population.

Ukrainian story is important because it forms the linchpin of their propaganda efforts. And I believe that’s the main reason, why the connection to the city was disrupted right away, as opposed to any other place in Ukraine. In the absence of this connection to the city, all we hear from Ukrainians is 1. Russians bomb the humanitarian corridors and don’t let people out. 2. Russians want to take people to Russia and don’t let them go to Ukraine. 3. Brutality and humanitarian disaster is unprecedented; the fighting is fierce and in its attempt to squash the heroic Azov Battalion, Russians are indiscriminately destroying the city of 400 thousand. Consequently, the message to the rest of the Ukraine is clear: fight to the bitter end, because Russians are evil beasts who will kill you in any case.


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Russian side is rather different, obviously: 1. We are careful in not hitting civilians. Azov forces use people as human shields, they hide in schools, theaters, and hospitals; they shoot anyone who wants to escape the area, they demand bribes to the tune of $2000 to let people out, in short, they behave like the deranged ISIS thugs in Syrian towns, they want humanitarian corridors not toward Russia but toward Ukraine, because that’s how Azov murderers hope to escape, rather than facing Russian arrests and trials, which would surely corroborate Russian line of “nazis” in Ukraine.

What is clear now, that sooner or later the truth will come out, as Russians are not ready to back off this time. We are talking about a very large city; I can’t imagine all the civilians destroyed and thus unable to testify. So far, those who managed to escape to the Russian side, all confirm Russian stories. They were shot at, they were bullied and intimidated, they were mistreated, they are kept hostages at a gun point by Azov thugs. Frankly, I can’t imagine, Russia hiring that many actors to perform.

Ukrainian side of the story is much less convincing. 1. There is no much of external corroboration, except the bold proclamations of Zelenski. 2. There is no precedent in other places in Ukraine. Russians are very careful not to hit the civilians in Kharkiv or Sumy, but suddenly they decide to shoot at anyone trying to escape the war in Mariupol. Makes no sense at all. 3. Ukrainian boldness in propagating all these stories is resting only on one fact: that the city is still in Ukrainian hands, its civilians are being destroyed and therefore silences, that its Mayor keeps on pushing the Ukrainian narrative; and that there are no independent western reporters to talk to civilians. Nor do they obviously speak the language, and thus remain in the hands of their Ukrainian handlers.

Furthermore, and that’s the horror of it. While Russians need witnesses to corroborate their side of the story, all that Kiev needs, is the silenced and destroyed city. The deader, the better. If there is no one to testify, except ruined buildings, the Western audience will surely get confirmed in their Russophobic biases, and Ukrainian narrative, which — in my opinion — is based on cynicism and cruelty — will carry the day. And that’s the bottom line. Russians want the city dwellers alive, Kiev regime wants them dead or in Ukrainian hands, so that they would follow the line. And that’s why the fighting for this city is so fierce.


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