During US President Joe Biden's Thursday speech wherein he unveiled as expected another $800 million military aid package for Ukraine, he took time to address the situation in Mariupol, following Vladimir Putin earlier in the day declaring the southeast port city had been "liberated".
Biden called the Russian narrative "questionable" - saying, "It’s questionable whether he does control Mariupol," and added: "There is no evidence yet that Mariupol is completely fallen."
After expressing doubt over the degree to which Russian forces are really in control of the whole city at this point, Biden called on Putin to allow any remaining trapped civilians to escape. Addressing the Azovstal steel plant situation, he specifically said any civilians there must be safely allowed to exit. "That’s what any head of state would do in any circumstance," Biden said.
Starting Tuesday the remaining civilians began exiting the plant. Russian forces established a 'humanitarian corridor' and some 120 were safely evacuated. RT aired footage of the Ukrainian civilians being escorted out of the area later that day. But there could still be hundreds still inside and below the cavernous sprawling complex, along with an estimated couple thousand Ukrainian Azov fighters.
Putin's narrative of a 'liberated' city fully in control of Russian forces - which Biden is casting doubt on - was seen in words given to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in an earlier military briefing that aired on state TV:
"Mariupol has been liberated," Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin in a televised meeting. "The remaining nationalist formations took refuge in the industrial zone of the Azovstal plant."
Putin said: “We should always think, in this case especially, about saving the lives and health of our soldiers and officers. There is no need to climb into these catacombs.”
"Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly can escape," he continued.
At the start of this week Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal suggested that Mariupol would not be seen as "fallen" until Russia defeats the last Ukrainian soldier there, vowing a "fight to the end."
Zelensky was quick to thank Biden for approving the massive new weapons package Thursday...
I’m grateful to @POTUS & 🇺🇸 people for the leadership in supporting the people of Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression. This help is needed today more than ever! It saves the lives of our defenders of democracy and freedom and brings us closer to restoring peace in 🇺🇦.— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) April 21, 2022
“The city still has not fallen,” Shmyhal said after Moscow demanded the surrender of the fighters that are still in the Azovstal plant.
“There’s still our military forces, our soldiers. So they will fight to the end,” he said days ago to ABC’s "This Week."