Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said Monday that the "defense of Mariupol continues" amid heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces inside the besieged city and Russian troops and pro-Russian separatists.
"The connection with the units of the defense forces that heroically hold the city is stable and maintained," Zaluzhny said. "I emphasize that conducting defense operations is not a topic for public discussion. We are doing the possible and impossible to win and save the lives of personnel and civilians in all directions."
Denis Pushilin, the head of the Russian-backed Donetsk People's Republic, said Monday the city's port had fallen to Russian and Russian-backed forces, Russian state news agencies reported. Those reports could not be immediately verified.
Ukrainian officials have said around 100,000 civilians remain in the city, which has come under heavy bombardment. Ukraine's defense of Mariupol has tied down Russian units and hampered their efforts to solidify a land corridor from the Russian border to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
The Institute for the Study of War, a defense think tank that tracks military operations in Ukraine, assessed Sunday that “Russian forces bisected Mariupol from the city center to the coast on April 10, isolating the remaining Ukrainian defenders in the southwestern port and eastern Azovstal Steel Plant.”
The defense of Mariupol has been a national rallying point for Ukrainians, and the destruction of the city has become a symbol of Russia's indiscriminate use of firepower.
On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed "tens of thousands" of people had died in Mariupol, a claim that could not be immediately verified.