Russia gave Ukrainian fighters still holding out in Mariupol a new ultimatum to surrender on Wednesday as it seeks a decisive victory in its new eastern offensive, while Western governments promised more military aid to kyiv.
Thousands of Russian soldiers backed by artillery and rocket barrage were advancing in what Ukrainian officials have called the Battle of Donbas.
The nearly eight-week Russian invasion failed to capture any of Ukraine’s largest cities, forcing Moscow to refocus on and around breakaway regions.
Yet the biggest attack on a European state since 1945 has sent nearly 5 million people fleeing abroad and reduced cities to rubble.
As Russian troops attack eastern Ukraine, ‘Dnipro is more important than kyiv’
Russia was attacking the Azovstal steel plant, Mariupol’s main remaining stronghold, with bunker-busting bombs, a Ukrainian presidential adviser said Tuesday night. Reuters was unable to verify the details.
“The world watches the murder of children online and remains silent,” adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
After an earlier ultimatum to surrender expired and as midnight approached, the Russian Defense Ministry said not a single Ukrainian soldier had laid down their arms and renewed the proposal. Ukrainian commanders have promised not to surrender.
“Russia’s armed forces, based solely on humanitarian principles, again propose that fighters of nationalist battalions and foreign mercenaries cease their military operations from 14:00 Moscow time on April 20 and lay down their arms,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The United States, Canada and Britain said they would send more artillery weapons.
“We will continue to provide them with more ammunition, just as we will provide them with more military assistance,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, adding that new sanctions were in the works.
US President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new military aid package the same size as last week’s $800 million in the coming days, multiple sources told Reuters.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a four-day humanitarian pause in the fighting next weekend, when Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter, to allow civilians to escape and humanitarian aid to be delivered.
Russia says it launched what it calls a “special military operation” on February 24 to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. kyiv and its Western allies dismiss it as a false pretext.
Ukraine said the new assault resulted in the capture of Kreminna, an administrative center of 18,000 people in Luhansk, one of the two Donbas provinces.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that “another stage of this operation is beginning.”
Repulsed by Ukrainian forces in March from an assault on kyiv in the north, Russia has sent troops east for the Donbas offensive. It has also carried out long-distance attacks on other targets, including the capital.
Coal and steel-producing Donbas has been the focal point of Russia’s campaign to destabilize Ukraine since 2014, when the Kremlin used proxies to establish breakaway “people’s republics” in parts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
In Mariupol, the scene of the war’s heaviest fighting and worst humanitarian catastrophe, some 120 civilians living next to the sprawling Azovstal steel plant left through humanitarian corridors, the Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday, citing on Russian state television.
Mariupol has been under siege since the first days of the war. Tens of thousands of residents have been trapped without access to food or water, and bodies litter the streets. Ukraine believes that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed there.
“The Russian military will forever be inscribed in world history as perhaps the most barbaric and inhumane military in the world,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address.
“Deliberately killing civilians, destroying residential neighborhoods and civilian infrastructure, and using all kinds of weapons, including those prohibited by international conventions, is already the hallmark of the Russian military.”
Russia has denied using banned weapons or targeting civilians in its invasion of Ukraine and says, without evidence, signs of atrocities were staged.
The video released by Ukraine’s Azov battalion purported to show people living in the underground network below the steel plant, where they say hundreds of women, children and elderly civilians are sheltering with dwindling supplies.
“We lost our home; we lost our livelihood. We want to live a normal and peaceful life. We want to get out of here,” says an unidentified woman in the video.
“There are many children here, they are hungry. Get us out of here, we beg you. We’ve already cried all the tears we have. We can’t cry anymore,” she added.
Reuters was unable to independently verify where or when the video was recorded.
kyiv and Moscow have not held face-to-face talks since March 29. Each side blames the other for their breakup.
“Obviously, against the background of the Mariupol tragedy, the negotiation process has become even more complicated,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Podolyak told Reuters.
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