11:50 am ET, February 23, 2023
Ukrainian officials report a series of explosions in Russian-occupied Mariupol, the center of Moscow’s forces
From CNN’s Tim Lister, Maria Kostenko and Maria Knight
Ukrainian officials say more bombs have gone off The Russian-occupied city of Mariupol, Supply center and rear base for Moscow’s forces.
Mariupol mayor’s adviser Petro Andryushchenko said there were three explosions on Thursday.
The official, who is not in Mariupol but maintains contacts there, said two strikes hit the Ilyich iron and steel works area. “The Armed Forces of Ukraine are striking the aggressor’s bases with surgical precision,” he said in a telegram.
“There is a third blast, it hit near the airport. Again. We are finishing the job,” he added.
The adviser also said Russian planes were flying over the city in several places on Thursday. According to social media video and unofficial accounts, there have been several explosions around the city over the past two nights.
It is unclear what caused the explosions and how many air defenses may have been active. Mariupol is beyond the range of Western-supplied rocket systems and howitzers operated by the Ukrainian armed forces.
The city is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the nearest Ukrainian front-line positions, which would be beyond the range of the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) supplied to Ukraine.
Natalya Humenyuk, spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military in the south, said, “At this point, we can only say that remoteness is a very relative concept. It is not always remoteness that is considered inaccessible. The Mariupol direction is no longer accessible to us.”
Ukrainian media have suggested that the military may have deployed a new domestically-made rocket system with greater range.
More on Russia’s presence in Mariupol: According to Ukrainian officials and geolocated social media video, there has been an extensive build-up of Russian forces in and around Mariupol since November.
In November, Andriushchenko posted a video and comment saying, “Russia continues to build up military personnel in the Mariupol area. At least 30 trucks with manpower pass through Mariupol daily.” CNN could not verify that number.
This week, Andriushchenko said “the movement of military equipment toward Manhush/Berdiansk has resumed. A column with at least 7 trucks of ammunition was recorded moving through Mariupol toward Manhush.”
Why Mariupol is important to Moscow: Analysts say supply lines west and north from Mariupol are essential for the Russians to hold defensive lines in neighboring Zaporizhia against a Ukrainian counteroffensive.