Russia puts pressure on Mariupol as it focuses on eastern Ukraine

By ADAM SCHRECK

kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces tightened the fence around defenders holed up Wednesday at a giant steel plant that represented the last known Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol, as a fighter apparently from within pleaded for help in a video: “We can only I have a few days or hours left.”

With the holdouts coming under renewed bomb attacks, another attempt to evacuate civilians trapped in the pulverized port city failed due to continued fighting.

Meanwhile, the number of people fleeing the country topped 5 million, the Kremlin said it had drafted its demands to end the war, and the West scrambled to supply Ukraine with heavier weapons to counter the new push for war. the Russians to take over the industrial east. .

With global tensions rising, Russia reported the first successful test launch of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, the Sarmat. President Vladimir Putin has boasted that it can outperform any missile defense system and make those who threaten Russia “think twice,” with the head of Russia’s state aerospace agency calling the launch from northern Russia “a gift to NATO”.

The Pentagon described the test as “routine” and said it was not considered a threat.

On the battlefield, Ukraine said Moscow continued to mount assaults in the east, looking for weak spots in Ukraine’s defensive lines. Russia said it launched hundreds of missiles and airstrikes against targets that included concentrations of troops and vehicles.

The Kremlin’s stated goal is the capture of Donbas, the largely Russian-speaking eastern region that is home to coal mines, metallurgical plants and heavy equipment factories. Separating him would give Putin a much-needed victory two months into the war, after the failed attempt to storm the capital, kyiv.

The Luhansk governor said Russian forces now control 80% of his region, which is one of two that make up Donbas. Before Russia invaded on February 24, the kyiv government controlled 60% of the Lugansk region.

Governor Serhiy Haidai said that the Russians, after seizing the small town of Kreminna, are now threatening the towns of Rubizhne and Popasna. He urged all residents to evacuate immediately.

“The occupants control only parts of these cities, unable to reach the centers,” Haidai said on the Telegram messaging app.

Analysts say the offensive in the east could turn into a war of attrition as Russia faces more experienced and battle-hardened Ukrainian troops, who have been fighting pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas for eight years.

Russia said it has presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands to end the conflict, days after Putin said the talks were at a “dead end.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “the ball is in their court, we are waiting for an answer.” He did not elaborate on the draft and it was not clear when it was sent or if it offered anything new to the Ukrainians, who filed their own demands last month.

Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy said he had not seen or heard of the proposal, although one of his top aides said the Ukrainian side was reviewing it.

Moscow has long demanded that Ukraine abandon any attempt to join NATO. Ukraine has said it would accept that in exchange for security guarantees from several other countries. Other sources of tension include the state of both the Crimean peninsula, occupied by Moscow in 2014, and eastern Ukraine, where separatists have declared independent republics recognized by Russia.

In devastated Mariupol, Ukraine said the Russians dropped heavy bombs to flatten what was left of the Azvostal steel plant, believed to be the city’s last pocket of resistance.

A few thousand Ukrainian soldiers, according to the Russian estimate, remained at the plant, and its maze of tunnels and bunkers stretched over some 11 square kilometers (4 square miles). Zelenskyy said some 1,000 civilians were also trapped there.

A Ukrainian posted a video on Facebook urging world leaders to help evacuate people from the plant, saying: “We have more than 500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians with us, including women and children.”

The officer, who identified himself as Serhiy Volynskyy of the 36th Marine Brigade, said: “This may be our last call. We may only have a few days or hours left.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.

The Russian side issued a new ultimatum to the defenders to surrender, but the Ukrainians ignored all previous demands.

In total, more than 100,000 people were believed to be trapped with little or no food, water, medicine or heating in Mariupol, which had a prewar population of more than 400,000.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the latest effort to open a safe corridor for women, children and the elderly to escape failed because the Russians failed to observe a ceasefire. Many previous agreements of this kind have collapsed due to continued fighting.

An adviser to Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Twitter that he and other Ukrainian negotiators were ready for unconditional talks to save the lives of defenders and civilians trapped in Mariupol. There was no immediate response from Russia.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has warned of horrors yet to be revealed in Mariupol, given the death and destruction left in Bucha, near kyiv, after the Russians withdrew.

“We can only anticipate that when this tide also recedes from Mariupol, we will see much worse things, if that is even possible to imagine,” he said.

Mariupol has strategic and symbolic value for both sides. The scale of suffering there has made it a global focal point of warfare. The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, and free Russian troops to move to other parts of the Donbas.

As Russia continued to send troops and equipment to Donbas, Western nations scrambled to boost the flow of military supplies to kyiv for this new phase of the war, which is likely to involve trench warfare, long-range artillery strikes and battles. of tanks through relatively open terrain

US President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new weapons package in the coming days that will include additional ordnance, with Canada and the Netherlands also saying they would send more heavy weaponry.

In addition, a senior US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment of the war, said the training of Ukrainian personnel on US 155mm howitzers began in a European country outside from Ukraine, and the first of 18 promised such weapons. They began to arrive on the mainland.

Meanwhile, Putin boasted that the Sarmat missile “has no equivalent in the world.” The Sarmat is intended to eventually replace the Soviet-made missile codenamed Satan by NATO as a major component of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

It will make “those who, in the heat of frantic and aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country, think twice,” the Russian leader said.

Seeking a path to peace, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has requested meetings with Putin and Zelenskyy in their capitals to discuss how to stop the fighting. The UN did not receive an immediate response.

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Associated Press journalists Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine; Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine; and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other AP staff members around the world.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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