Mariupol today is best known in relation to the was occupied by Russian-led militias with the Donetsk People's Republic in May and June of 2014, when they were eventually driven out by Ukrainian volunteer battalions. Pro-Russian Militias occupied the city hall building, and it was burned down in the fighting. Mariupol faced several Russian offensives after that, including a rocket attack in 2015 that killed around 30 people. The front line of the conflict is only a short 20 minute drive away, near the suburb of Shyrokyne.
It has been such an important part of the war because of its role as the primary port on the Azov Sea. Its commanding position in the Sea of Azov led to it being a site for Ukrainian settlement since the Kyivan Rus period. During the early modern era, it, along with the rest of Azov plain, was a site of conflict between the Cossack Hetmanates and Crimean Khanate. The Zaporozhian Cossacks built a fortified town here named Kalmius at the mouth of the Kalmius river, which now divides Mariupol in half. It was also the eastern border of Zaporozhian territory, beyond which the Don Cossack Host held sway.
Modern Mariupol’s history began in 1779, then Empress Catherine II forcibly resettled Christians from Crimea (primarily Greeks and Armenians) here the next year. In the late Imperial period and into the Soviet period, the Donbas region, which Mariupol was the port for, became a densely populated coal mining and industrial heartland.
The Jewish community of Mariupol dates to the mid-19th century, but never were more than a minor portion of the population. The roughly 10,000 Jews living in the city in 1941 were nearly exterminated by the fascist occupiers. It has gained renewed importance as the primary city of unoccupied Donbas. Many of Donetsk’s Jews who did not either move to Kyiv or Israel instead came here.
You can read more about it here: https://ukrainianjewishencounter.org/en/mariupol-jewish-community-living-front-line/
The city’s working synagogue is a Chabad-run and tucked away in a courtyard. The historic Choral Synagogue is currently a ruin.
Synagogue Website: http://www.jewishmariupol.com.ua