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Ukrainian forces are holding out amid fierce fighting in the beleaguered southern city of Mariupol, but the humanitarian situation has worsened further, with most infrastructure destroyed and few exits, according to local officials.

Ukrainian forces still face a very tough fight, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Thursday. Russian forces bombarded the city for weeks with assaults that prevented large-scale evacuations and made it difficult to obtain information.

Russian-backed separatists claimed on Thursday that they had taken the center of the city, but there is no evidence for this claim, and local officials and Western military analysts have said the city remains in Ukrainian hands.

“Ukrainian armed forces are doing everything they can to liberate the city, but it’s very complicated,” Ms. Maliar said, adding that officials believed the Russian military was planning to use Mariupol as a springboard to take over. control of other regions.

The city government is working from another town, Zaporizhzhia, about 210 km northwest of Mariupol, and officials admitted it had been difficult to get a full picture of the fighting. But Pyotr Andryushchenko, an adviser to the city government, said the military situation in the city had remained stagnant in recent weeks amid fierce fighting.

“It’s difficult because we are not physically in Mariupol,” he said, adding that officials were partly relying on footage released by Russian forces and also in contact with people still in the area. city.

Information sharing can turn these sources into targets. “It’s very dangerous for those left behind,” Andryushchenko said.

Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova said in a statement on Telegram on Thursday that men were being forcibly conscripted into pro-Russian militias in occupied areas on the outskirts of Mariupol.

Thousands of civilians find their way, sporadically evacuating by private car through dangerous checkpoints and along risky routes. But about 130,000 people remain, according to local officials.

The city is sinking ever deeper into humanitarian crisis, with limited access to food, water and electricity, and sporadic or dangerous options for escape. It has been impossible to repair crucial infrastructure, Andryushchenko said.

Yulia Gorbunova, the author of a Human Rights Watch report on alleged Russian war crimes early in the conflict, said she feared what happened in Bucha, a kyiv suburb where dozens of civilians were found dead after the Russians withdrew, only to be amplified in Mariupol. .

“I can’t help but think about what we’re going to see in Mariupol,” she said. “We were looking at villages of a few thousand people.”

Since the siege began last month, Russian forces have destroyed most of the city’s infrastructure and more than 5,000 people have died, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said during a virtual roundtable on Wednesday.

Credit…Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters

Mr Andryushchenko said a Russian video of medical staff and patients leaving the last operating hospital in Mariupol confirmed reports that staff had been taken to a Russian-controlled area, rather than being allowed entry on Ukrainian territory.

“We have a lot of information, we know everything that’s going on in the city,” he said, adding that officials were monitoring biased reports from Russian state television for visual confirmation of reports on field.

Russian media shared footage of Russian forces distributing humanitarian aid to civilians in a supermarket. The photos show aid boxes emblazoned with a “Z,” a symbol of support for the invasion, and a hashtag in Russian that translates to “We Don’t Leave Our Own.”

Last month, satellite images showed hundreds of people lined up at the same store, located in an industrial area on the western outskirts of the city, where Russian forces have held control for some time.

“The Russians tried to get food for our people,” Andryushchenko said. He acknowledged that he was happy to see people getting supplies they desperately needed, but had probably been taken from Ukrainian warehouses in occupied areas.

“All these humanitarian goods are made in Ukraine – and they say it’s Russian,” he said.