World News

Russia attacks Mariupol as Ukrainian defenders take refuge in steel plant

Russian forces smashed a huge steel plant that held the last pocket of resistance on Sunday in Mariupol, a southern Ukrainian city that has been under siege for six weeks and whose takeover will support Moscow’s plans for a full-scale offensive in the east.

After the last Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol refused to surrender, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was “deliberately trying to destroy everyone there.” He said Ukraine needed more heavy weapons from the West immediately to have any chance of rescuing the port city of the Sea of ​​Azov.

“Either our partners give Ukraine all the necessary heavy weapons, planes and without exaggeration immediately so that we can reduce the occupiers’ pressure on Mariupol and end the blockade,” he said, “or we will do so through negotiations in which the role of our partners must be decisive. “

Earlier, Zelensky told Ukrainian journalists that the ongoing siege of Mariupol, which costs a horrific price to trapped and starving civilians, could hamper attempts to negotiate an end to the war.

The Azovstal steel plant can be seen on the outskirts of Mariupol in this photo taken on February 23rd. The industrial complex covers an area of ​​more than 11 square kilometers. (Sergey Gritz / Associated Press)

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had been expelled from most of the city and remained only at the Azovstal steel plant, where tunnels allow defenders to hide and resist until they run out of ammunition.

The Russians are already in control of what is left of the city after weeks of bombing. Hitting the steel plant to take the rest is part of Russia’s preparations for the expected attack in eastern Ukraine.

The capture of Mariupol would allow Russian forces in the south, which emerged through the annexed Crimean peninsula, to fully connect with troops in the Donbass region, Ukraine’s eastern industrial center and the focus of the expected offensive.

Mariupol is a “shield defending Ukraine”

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hana Malyar said on Sunday that Mariupol defenders had tied up significant Russian forces besieging the city. She described the city as a “shield protecting Ukraine” that prevents Russian troops surrounding the city from advancing to other parts of the country.

Malyar said the Russians had continued to carry out air strikes on Mariupol and appeared to be preparing a landing to strengthen their forces in the city.

Meanwhile, scattered Russian attacks elsewhere in Ukraine have been an explosive reminder to Ukrainians and their Western supporters that the entire country remains under threat of invasion, now in its eighth week.

Russia promises to step up missile strikes on Kyiv

After failing to capture the Ukrainian capital and humiliating the loss of its Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, Russia’s military command has vowed to step up missile strikes on the capital, Kyiv. The Russians said they hit an armored vehicle plant on Saturday, a day after heading for a missile plant.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said one person was killed and several were injured in Saturday’s strike. He advised residents who had fled the city earlier in the war not to return.

“We do not rule out further strikes against the capital,” he said. “If you have the opportunity to stay a little longer in cities where it’s safer, do it.”

Attacks in 8 regions

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the plant was among many Ukrainian military sites affected by “high-precision, long-range weapons.” The Ukrainian president’s office reported rocket fire and shelling in eight regions across the country between Friday and Saturday.

The governor of Lviv region in western Ukraine, which is only sporadically affected by the violence of the war, announced air strikes in the region by Russian Su-35 planes that took off from neighboring Belarus.

Ukrainian servicemen watch a destroyed Russian tank on the road in the village of Rusanov in the Kiev region on Saturday. (Genya Savilov / AFP / Getty Images)

In northeast Kharkov, Mayor Igor Terekhov said three people were killed and 34 were injured on Saturday. An explosion believed to have been caused by a rocket sent by rescue workers to climb near an open-air market. Workers said one person was killed and at least 18 were injured.

“All the windows, all the furniture, all the destroyed. And the door too,” said the stunned resident Valentina Ulyanova.

The day before, rockets hit a residential area of ​​Kharkiv, killing a 15-year-old boy, baby and at least eight other people in Ukraine’s second-largest city, officials said.

Nate Mook, a member of the non-governmental organization World Central Kitchen, run by renowned chef Jose Andres, tweeted that four workers in Kharkov had been injured in a strike. Andres tweeted that employees were worried but safe.

Putin “in his own military logic”

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nechamer, who met with Vladimir Putin last week in Moscow – the first European leader to do so since the invasion began on February 24 – said the Russian president was “in his own military logic” for Ukraine.

In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Nehamer said he believed Putin believed he was winning the war and “we need to look him in the eye and we must confront him with what we see in Ukraine.”

Nehamer said he told Putin what he saw during a visit to the Kiev suburb of Bucha, where more than 350 bodies were found, along with evidence of killings and torture during the Russian occupation, and “it was not a friendly conversation.”

Proponents of the guerrillas waved a Serbian flag with the letter Z during a match in the playoffs of the Serbian Super League in Belgrade on Saturday. “Z” has become a symbol of support for Russian military action in Ukraine. (Andrey Isakovich / AFP / Getty Images)

Zelensky estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers died in the war and about 10,000 were wounded. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office said on Saturday that at least 200 children had been killed and more than 360 injured.

Russian forces have also captured about 700 Ukrainian soldiers and more than 1,000 civilians, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said on Saturday. Ukraine holds approximately the same number of Russian troops as prisoners and intends to organize an exchange, but insists on the release of civilians “without any conditions,” she said.

Russia’s warning of intensified attacks on Kyiv came after it accused Ukraine on Thursday of injuring seven people and damaging about 100 residential buildings by air strikes in Bryansk, a region bordering Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed that they have hit targets in Russia.

Russian Major General Vladimir Frolov, whose troops were among the besiegers of Mariupol, was buried Saturday in St. Petersburg after dying in battle, Governor Alexander Beglov said. Ukraine says several Russian generals and dozens of other high-ranking officers have been killed in the war.