Russian officials do not expect to hold a major “Victory Day” event in Mariupol on May 9, according to a top Kremlin spokesman, as beleaguered Ukrainian defenders continue to stymie Russian battle plans.

"A time will come, and there will be a big celebration there,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted on Friday. "There will certainly be Russians there, and there will be many Russians on May 9, but I don't know about any official delegation.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory over the defenders of Mariupol last month despite their continuing defense of the city’s Azovstal steel plant, which he claimed was not significant enough to warrant the casualties that would come from an attempt to storm the warren of hardened fortifications. That diffident statement has been belied by "heavy, bloody fighting" underway in recent days, which have interrupted the evacuation of civilians from the steelworks.

“Currently, Russian shelling and assault of Azovstal do not stop,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday evening. “But civilians still need to be taken out — women, children, many children who are still there. Just imagine this hell! And there are children. More than two months of constant shelling, bombing, constant death nearby.”


The destruction of Mariupol has proven so extensive that Zelensky, in a Friday address, rejected the premise of a question about the military significance of any impending fall of Mariupol.

“There is nothing there to fall apart — it is already devastated,” he told a Chatham House audience through a translator. “And there is this little turf, this little structure ... the steel mill, or what remains of it. And people are being evacuated as much as we can.”

Putin launched the campaign to overthrow Zelensky in February with the apparent expectation of a quick victory over a government that he has sought to brand as a neo-Nazi regime. Those plans and propaganda set the stage for a celebration of the expected victory over Ukraine to coincide with Russia’s annual celebration of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, but Russian officials have downplayed the link between the war and the annual event.

"Our soldiers won't base their actions on a specific date,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Sunday. "We'll commemorate our victory [in World War II] in a solemn manner, but the timing and speed of what is happening in Ukraine will hinge on the need to minimize risks for civilians and Russian soldiers.”

Still, Ukrainian intelligence officials have predicted that Russian forces will try to make Mariupol "the center of celebrations” on May 9.

"The main avenues of the city are [being] urgently cleaned, the debris and the bodies of the dead removed, as well as the ammunition, which did not explode,” Ukrainian military intelligence said Thursday.

Zelensky echoed that forecast on Friday and implied that the end of the fighting will have more significance for Russia’s “info-ops” than practical tactical outcomes.


"If they kill people who can be exchanged as [prisoners of war] or just released as civilians or be helped as wounded or injured ... if they destroy them, I don’t think we can have any diplomatic talks after that,” he said. “But speaking in the military sense, they will proceed to the point where we stop them.”