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Ukraine reports Russians trying to storm Mariupol plant

KIEVO, Ukraine – Russian forces attacked a steel plant in the devastated Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Saturday, Ukrainian officials said, apparently seeking to eliminate the last pillar of Ukrainian resistance in the strategic city of Kremlin. of.

The attack was reported by an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office as an estimated 1,000 civilians were sheltered at the Azovstal plant along with the remaining Ukrainian fighters, while Russian forces repulsed the attack elsewhere in eastern Donbass amid fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Presidential Adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said during a briefing that Russian forces had resumed airstrikes on the huge coastal factory and were trying to invade it, which would represent a reversal of the order given by Russian President Vladimir Putin two days ago. earlier.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin on Thursday that all of Mariupol, with the exception of Azovstal, had been “liberated” by the Russians. At the time, Putin ordered him not to send Russian troops to the plant, but instead to block the installation, an apparent attempt to starve the Ukrainians and force them to surrender.

Ukrainian officials estimate that about 2,000 of their soldiers are inside the factory, along with civilians sheltered in the facility’s underground tunnels. Arestovich said Ukrainian forces were trying to counter the new attacks.

Earlier on Saturday, Ukraine’s Azov National Guard Regiment, which has members at the factory, released footage of about 20 women and children, some of whom said they had been in the mill’s underground tunnels for two months and longed to see it. sun.

“We want to see calm skies, we want to breathe fresh air,” a woman said in the video. “You just have no idea what it means for us to eat, to drink some sugary tea. For us, it is already happiness.”

The deputy commander of the regiment, Sviatoslav Palamar, told the Associated Press that the video was shot on Thursday, the same day that Russia declared victory over the rest of Mariupol. Content could not be independently verified.

Both the Ukrainian and Russian authorities have stated that the Azovstal plant is the last stronghold in Mariupol, which is of strategic importance to Moscow and has been under siege since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

More than 100,000 people – less than the population of about 430,000 before the war – are believed to be trapped in Mariupol with little food, water or heat, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Azovstal’s video showed soldiers giving sweets to children who respond with punches. A young girl says she and her relatives “have not seen either the sky or the sun” since leaving home on February 27.

More than 20,000 civilians have been killed in Mariupol during the nearly two-month siege. Satellite images released this week showed what appeared to be mass graves near Mariupol, with local officials accusing Russia of burying thousands of civilians to cover up the massacre there.

Ukrainian officials said they were trying again on Saturday to remove women, children and the elderly from Mariupol after several previous attempts failed. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told the Telegram messaging app that the effort was to begin at noon, but it was unclear how the new attack on the plant would affect any possible evacuation.

Russia has withdrawn twelve troops from Mariupol to step up its attack elsewhere in eastern Donbass, while other troops continue to hold the remaining Ukrainian troops in the city trapped in the factory, Ukrainian officials said.

In Donbas, Russian troops have stepped up their offensive in an attempt to take full control of Ukraine’s industrial heartland, but little progress has been made as fierce Ukrainian counterattacks have slowed their efforts, Ukrainian and British officials said on Saturday.

Ukrainian forces have repulsed eight Russian attacks in the past 24 hours in the two regions, destroying nine tanks, 18 armored units and 13 vehicles, a tanker and three artillery systems, the Ukrainian General Staff said.

“The units of the Russian occupiers are being regrouped. The Russian enemy continues to launch rocket bombings and bombings on military and civilian infrastructure,” the General Staff said on its Facebook page.

Luhansk Governor Serhi Haidai said on Saturday that two people had been killed in Russian bombings in the town of Popasna. Separately, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov told the Telegram on Saturday that two people had been killed and 19 others wounded in the Russian bombing. Synehubov said that in the last day Russian forces fired 56 times at the political infrastructure of the region.

“Apart from the fact that street fighting has been going on in the city (of Popasna) for several weeks, the Russian army is constantly firing high-rise apartment buildings and private homes,” Haidai wrote in the Telegram messaging app. “Just yesterday, the residents of the area withstood five enemy artillery attacks … Not all of them survived.”

The British Defense Ministry said that despite their increased activity, “Russian forces have not made significant gains in the last 24 hours as Ukrainian counterattacks continue to thwart efforts.”

Russia has not yet established air or sea control over the Ukrainian resistance, and despite Putin’s declaration of victory in Mariupol, “fierce fighting continues, frustrating Russian attempts to occupy the city, further slowing their desired progress. in Donbass. ” said the Ministry of Defense.

In all, the Kremlin has dropped more than 100,000 troops and mercenaries from Syria and Libya into battle in Ukraine and is deploying more forces in the country every day, Danilov said.

“We have a difficult situation, but our army is defending our state,” he said.

In western Ukraine, Governor Maksym Kozytskyy announced a curfew in the Lviv region in anticipation of Orthodox Easter. Kozytskyy cited “new information” and said the curfew would be in effect from 11pm on Saturday until 5pm on Sunday and then every day between those hours until later.

“Unfortunately, the enemy does not have such a meaning as an important religious holiday,” Kozytskyy wrote.

Mariupol has taken on enormous importance in the war. Its complete occupation would deprive the Ukrainians of a vital port and allow Russia to build a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow occupied from Ukraine in 2014.

Occupying the city would also allow Putin to throw more of his forces into the potentially top battle for the Donbas and its coal mines, factories and other industries.

The city has been largely reduced to smoky rubble by weeks of bombing, and Russian state television has shown the Donetsk separatist pro-Moscow flag hoisted on the city’s highest point, its television tower. It also showed what he said was the main building on fire.

Under cover of darkness, Ukrainian forces were able to deliver weapons to the besieged steel plant by helicopter, said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.

The latest satellite images from Maxar Technologies have revealed what appeared to be a second mass grave near Mariupol. The site of a cemetery in the town of Vynohradne has several parallel ditches about 40 meters (131 feet) long, recently dug, Maxar said in a statement.

Earlier, Maxar posted photos of what appeared to be row by row with more than 200 recently dug mass graves next to a cemetery in the town of Manhush, outside Mariupol. This provoked accusations in Ukraine that the Russians were trying to hide the massacre of civilians in the city.

The Ukrainians estimated that the graves shown in the photos released on Thursday could hold 9,000 corpses.

The Kremlin did not respond to a request for comment.

Copyright © 2022 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.



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