Historically, the city of Mariupol was a centre for trade and manufacturing, and played a key role in the development of higher education and many businesses while also serving as a coastal resort on the Sea of Azov. In 1948, Mariupol was renamed Zhdanov after Andrei Zhdanov, a native of the city who had become a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and a close ally to Joseph Stalin. The name was part of a larger effort to rename cities after high-ranking political figures in the Soviet Union. The historic name was restored in 1989. Mariupol was founded on the site of a former encampment for Cossacks, known as Kalmius. It played a key role in the industrialization; it was a centre for grain trade, metallurgy, and heavy engineering—including the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works.

Beginning on 24 February 2022, the three-month-long siege of Mariupol by Russian forces largely destroyed the city, for which it was given the title “Hero City of Ukraine” by the Ukrainian government. On 16 May 2022, all Ukrainian troops who remained in Mariupol surrendered at Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, as the Russian military secured complete control over the city by 20 May 2022.