On Wednesday, Russia told Ukrainian fighters still clinging to Mariupol to give up as it pushed for a decisive victory in its new eastern offensive, prompting Western governments to pledge more military aid to kyiv.
Thousands of Russian troops backed by artillery and rocket barrages were advancing in what Ukrainian officials called the Battle of Donbass. Earlier, they seized the city of Kreminna.
Russia’s nearly eight-week invasion took longer than expected, while still failing to capture one of the biggest cities, forcing Moscow to refocus in and around breakaway regions.
The biggest attack on a European state since 1945, however, has seen nearly 5 million people flee abroad and reduced cities to rubble as the incursion drags on.
Russia was hitting the steel plant in Azovstal, the main remaining stronghold in Mariupol, with bunker busters, a Ukrainian presidential adviser said on Tuesday evening. Reuters could not verify the details.
“The world is watching the killing of children online and staying silent,” councilor Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
After a previous surrender ultimatum expired and as midnight approached, the Russian Defense Ministry said no Ukrainian soldiers had laid down their arms and renewed their offer. Ukrainian commanders have sworn not to surrender.
“The Russian armed forces, based solely on humanitarian principles, again propose that fighters of nationalist battalions and foreign mercenaries cease military operations from 2:00 p.m. Moscow time on April 20 and lay down their arms,” said the Russian Defense Ministry.
The United States, Canada and Britain said they would send more artillery weapons.
“We will continue to provide them with more ammunition, as we will continue to provide them with more military assistance,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, adding that further sanctions were in the works.
U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new military aid package about the same size as last week’s $800 million in the coming days, multiple sources told Reuters.
“It is unfair that Ukraine still has to ask for (weapons) that have been lying dormant for years in our partners’ storage depots,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a four-day humanitarian pause in the fighting this weekend, when Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter, to allow civilians to escape and for humanitarian aid to continue. to be conveyed.
Russia says it launched what it calls a “special military operation” on Feb. 24 to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. kyiv and its Western allies dismiss this as a false pretense.
Ukraine said the new assault resulted in the capture of Kreminna, an administrative center of 18,000 people in Luhansk, one of the two provinces of Donbass.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that “another stage of this operation is beginning”.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was “methodically” pursuing its plan to “liberate” Donetsk and Luhansk, provinces that Moscow is demanding kyiv hand over entirely to Russian-backed separatists.
Pushed back by Ukrainian forces in March after an assault on kyiv in the north, Russia instead sent troops east for the Donbass offensive. He also carried out long-range strikes on other targets, including the capital.
Senior Ukrainian security official Oleksiy Danilov said Russian forces tried to break through Ukrainian defenses “along almost the entire frontline of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions”.
The coal and steel-producing Donbass has been at the center of Russia’s campaign to destabilize Ukraine since 2014, when the Kremlin used proxies to create breakaway “people’s republics” in parts of Luhansk and Lugansk provinces. from Donetsk.
Moscow now says its goal is to capture all provinces on behalf of the separatists. Ukraine has a large force to defend the northern parts of Donbass and military experts say Russia aims to cut them off or encircle them.
But Russia still has to supply its troops in miles of hostile territory. Ukraine counterattacked near Kharkiv in the rear of advancing Russia, apparently aiming to cut supply lines.
Small hope of discussions?
In Mariupol, the scene of the war’s heaviest fighting and worst humanitarian disaster, around 120 civilians living next to the sprawling Azovstal steel plant have left via humanitarian corridors, the Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday. , citing Russian state television.
Mariupol has been under siege since the early days of the war. Tens of thousands of residents have been trapped without access to food or water and bodies litter the streets. Ukraine estimates that more than 20,000 civilians died there.
Russia has denied targeting civilians during its invasion of Ukraine and claims, without evidence, that signs of atrocities were staged.
Capturing Mariupol would link the pro-Russian separatist territory to the Crimea region that Moscow annexed in 2014.
In Russian-held districts seen by Reuters, reeling residents cooked over open fires outside their damaged homes.
“Obviously, in the context of the Mariupol tragedy, the negotiation process has become even more complicated,” Podolyak told Reuters.
Kyiv and Moscow have not held face-to-face talks since March 29. Each party blames the other for their failure.
“It’s hard to say when the next round of face-to-face negotiations will be possible because the Russians are seriously betting on the so-called ‘second stage of the special operation,'” Podolyak said.
Shells and rockets also hit Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, local officials said, destroying apartment buildings and other buildings. Four people were killed and 14 injured, they said.
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