(KYIV, Ukraine) – Russian forces tightened the noose around defenders locked in a massive steelworks on Wednesday that represented the last known Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol, as a fighter apparently inside pleaded on video to get help: “We may only have a few days or hours left.
As resistance fighters suffered further punitive bombings, another attempt to evacuate civilians trapped in the pulverized port city failed due to continued fighting.
Meanwhile, the number of people fleeing the country exceeded 5 million, the Kremlin said it had submitted a draft of its demands to end the war, and the West rushed to provide the heavy weapons to counter Russia’s new drive to take over the industrial east. .
As global tensions run high, Russia announced the first successful test launch of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, the Sarmat. President Vladimir Putin boasted he could overcome any missile defense system and make those threatening Russia “think twice”, and the head of Russia’s state aerospace agency called the launch from northern Russia of “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 across the east, probing weak spots in Ukraine’s defensive lines. Russia said it launched hundreds of missile and air attacks on targets including concentrations of troops and vehicles.
The Kremlin’s stated goal is the capture of Donbass, the predominantly Russian-speaking eastern region home to coal mines, metallurgical plants and heavy equipment factories. Detaching him would give Putin a much-needed victory two months into the war, after the failed attempt to storm the capital, kyiv.
The governor of Luhansk said Russian forces now control 80% of his region, which is one of the two that make up Donbass. Before the Russian invasion on February 24, the kyiv government controlled 60% of the Lugansk region.
Governor Serhiy Haidai said the Russians, having taken the small town of Kreminna, are now threatening the towns of Rubizhne and Popasna. He urged all residents to evacuate immediately.
“The occupiers only control parts of these cities, unable to enter 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 comes up against the most experienced and battle-hardened Ukrainian troops, who have fought pro-Moscow separatists in Donbass for eight years.
Russia said it presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands to end the conflict – days after Putin said the talks were at an “impasse”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “the ball is in their court, we are waiting for an answer.” He gave no details about the project, and it was unclear when it was sent or if it offered anything new to Ukrainians, who made their own demands last month.
Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy said he had not seen or heard of the proposal, although one of his top advisers said the Ukrainian side was considering it.
Moscow has long called on Ukraine to drop any NATO candidacy. Ukraine said it would agree to this in exchange for security guarantees from a number of other countries. Other sources of tension relate to both the status of the Crimean peninsula, seized by Moscow in 2014, and eastern Ukraine, where separatists have declared independent republics recognized by Russia.
In devastated Mariupol, Ukraine says the Russians dropped heavy bombs to flatten what was left of the sprawling Azvostal steel plant, considered the last pocket of resistance in the city.
A few thousand Ukrainian soldiers, according to the Russians’ estimate, remained in the factory and its maze of tunnels and bunkers spread over some 11 square kilometers (4 square miles). Zelenskyy said around 1,000 civilians were also trapped there.
A Ukrainian man posted a video call on Facebook urging world leaders to help evacuate people from the factory, saying: ‘We have over 500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians with us, including women and children .
The officer, who identified himself as Serhiy Volynskyy from the 36th Marine Brigade, said: “This may be our last call. We may only have a few days or a few 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, over 100,000 people are believed to have been trapped with little or no food, water, medicine or heating in Mariupol, which had a population of over 400,000 before the war.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says latest efforts to open a safe corridor for women, children and the elderly to escape have failed because the Russians have failed to observe a ceasefire -fire. Many earlier such agreements have collapsed due to continued fighting.
An adviser to Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Twitter that he and other Ukrainian negotiators were ready to hold talks without any conditions to save the lives of trapped Mariupol defenders and civilians. There was no immediate response from Russia.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has warned of the 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, if that is possible to imagine,” he said.
Mariupol has strategic and symbolic value for both parties. The scale of the suffering there has made it a global hotbed of war. 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 elsewhere in the Donbass.
As Russia continued to funnel troops and equipment into the Donbass, Western nations rushed to increase the flow of military supplies to kyiv for this new phase of the war, which will likely involve trench warfare, attacks long-range artillery and tank battles across relatively open terrain.
US President Joe Biden was due to announce his intention to send more military aid to Ukraine on Thursday, according to a US official.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Biden would detail his plans to add to the roughly $2.6 billion in military assistance the administration already has. approved. Canada and the Netherlands have also said they will send more heavy weapons.
Additionally, a senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s war assessment, said training of Ukrainian personnel on US 155mm howitzers had begun in a European country apart from Ukraine, and that the first of the 18 had promised such weapons. began to arrive on the continent.
Putin, meanwhile, boasted that the Sarmat missile had “no equivalent in the world”. The Sarmat is intended to eventually replace the Soviet-built missile named Satan by NATO as a major component of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
This “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 called for meetings with Putin and Zelenskyy in their capitals to discuss how to stop the fighting. The UN received no immediate response.
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 around the world.
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