If the Russians take the Azovstal industrial district, where the marines have been holed up, they would be in full control of Mariupol, Ukraine’s main Sea of Azov port, which would allow Russia to reinforce a land corridor between separatist-held eastern areas and the Crimea region that it seized and annexed in 2014.

Surrounded by Russian troops for weeks and the focus of some of the fiercest fighting of the war, Mariupol would be the first major city to fall since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The battle for the industrial heartland of Donbas is likely to define the course of the war.

Russia’s defense ministry said that 1,026 soldiers of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade surrendered, including 162 officers.

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