Russia closes in on Mariupol besieged by Ukraine

Mariupol could fall to the Russians within “hours”, a Ukrainian official said, as enemies on Wednesday agreed on a humanitarian corridor allowing civilians to flee the devastated port city after a two-month siege.

As fighting raged in the east and south of the country, European Council President Charles Michel arrived in Kyiv, where he vowed the EU would do “everything possible” to help Ukraine win the war.

“You are not alone. We are with you,” Michel told a press conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Michel’s visit comes as the West continues to pour weapons into Ukraine amid a new Russian push into the eastern Donbass region where a new offensive launched this week has led to an upsurge in fighting.

Hours before Michel’s arrival, the Pentagon said Ukraine had recently received fighter jets and spare parts to bolster its air force, following repeated calls from kyiv for more weapons. heavy.

The Ukrainian Air Force later hit back at the claim, saying it had only received spare parts to help replenish its existing fleet and had not received additional aircraft. .

The announcement came as the Battle of Mariupol appeared to be approaching a crucial tipping point, after nearly two months of devastating fighting that saw countless civilians trapped and killed.

Control of Mariupol and the separatist-controlled Donbass region to the east would allow Moscow to create a southern corridor to the Crimean peninsula it annexed in 2014, depriving Ukraine of much of its littoral.

In the latest ultimatum issued in its battle to capture Mariupol, Moscow again called on the city’s defenders to surrender at 2:00 p.m. Moscow time (11:00 GMT) on Wednesday and announced the opening of a humanitarian corridor for all Ukrainian troops who agreed to lay down their arms.

As the deadline approached, a commander at the beleaguered Azovstal steelworks made a desperate plea for help, saying his marines were “possibly facing our last days, if not hours”.

“The enemy outnumbered us 10 to one,” said Serhiy Volyna of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade.

“We call on and implore all world leaders to help us. We ask them to use the extraction procedure and take us to the territory of a third state.”

Thousands of soldiers and civilians remain holed up in the factory.

An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol described a “horrible situation” in the surrounded compound and reported that up to 2,000 people – mostly women and children – are being deprived of a “normal” supply of drinking water, food and in fresh air.

Svyatoslav Palamar, a commander of the Nationalist Azov Battalion defending Mariupol, said the Russian attack on the sprawling steel complex was relentless.

“Powerful bombs were dropped several times on Azovstal, we were bombarded from boats… we are besieged. The front is 360 degrees,” Palamar said in a Telegram post, adding that hundreds of civilians were also trapped in the plant.

“The situation is critical, we call on international leaders to come to the aid of children,” he added.

Offering some respite, kyiv said Wednesday morning it had agreed with Russian forces to open a safe route for civilians to flee the devastated city.

“We managed to get a preliminary agreement on a humanitarian corridor for women, children and the elderly,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Telegram.

“Violent Deaths”

Elsewhere on the front lines, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said its troops had repelled a Russian attack in the town of Izium, south of the partially blockaded second city of Kharkiv to the east.

Kyiv also claimed enemy casualties in a Ukrainian counterattack near the town of Marinka in Donetsk.

Separately, Russia said on Wednesday that its forces had launched 73 airstrikes across Ukraine, hitting dozens of locations where troops were concentrated.

In Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, a major city in the Donetsk region, residents were already preparing for the worst.

“It’s going to be a mess,” said Alexander, 53. “There is nothing good waiting for.”

Farther from the front lines, residents were still in shock weeks after Russian forces withdrew from the area near the capital kyiv.

At a morgue in Bucha, families carefully searched body bags and examined corpses for missing loved ones.

In the parking lot of the small communal morgue, the body bags arrived in carts or piled up in trailers, vans and non-refrigerated trucks.

Four hundred bodies have been discovered since the Russians withdrew on March 31, local police chief Vitaly Lobas told AFP. About a quarter of them are still unidentified.

“The majority died violent deaths” and were shot, Lobas said, declining to provide a concrete figure at this stage.

‘War crimes’

President Vladimir Putin said he launched the so-called military operation in Ukraine in February to save the country’s Russian speakers from a “genocide” perpetrated by a “neo-Nazi” regime.

But his forces have faced allegations of war crimes – most recently from the EU’s Michel during his visit to Kyiv on Wednesday where he visited the devastated nearby town of Borodianka.

“In Borodyanka. Like Bucha and too many other cities in Ukraine. History will not forget the war crimes that were committed here,” Michel wrote on Twitter.

“There can be no peace without justice,” he added.

Ukrainian authorities said more than 1,200 bodies had been found in the Kyiv region so far.

Russia news

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