KYIV: The defenders of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol changed the course of the war with Russia by holding out for 82 days, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Tuesday (May 17).
Podolyak said in televised comments that the defence of the port city had interrupted Russia's operation to seize swathes of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine.
He added that talks on evacuating more people from Mariupol's Azovstal steel works, the last bastion of defence in the city after weeks of Russian siege and bombardment, were difficult but that there was hope they would be successful.
Some Azovstal defenders have started to surrender, heralding the end of Europe's bloodiest battle in decades. Ukraine believes tens of thousands of people were killed in the battle for Mariupol.
"Because Mariupol drew in the Russian Federation's forces for 82 days, the operation to seize the east and south (of Ukraine) was held up. It changed the course of the war," Podolyak said.
Although Mariupol's complete capture would represent Russia's biggest victory of the war, its campaign has faltered elsewhere.
Russian troops around Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv in the northeast lately retreated at the fastest pace since they were driven out of the north and the area around the capital Kyiv at the end of March.
Podolyak, Ukraine's lead negotiator, reiterated that Ukraine was not prepared to give away territory in negotiations so that Russian President Vladimir Putin could save face.
He said peace talks with Russia were effectively frozen but that they could restart if there were concrete issues to discuss.
"Objectively speaking, the negotiation process is indeed in a pause ... but I underline that any war will all the same end at the negotiating table," he said.
Ukraine and Russia have not held face-to-face peace talks since Mar 29. Russian chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky was quoted by Interfax news agency last week as saying peace talks were being held remotely.