- The port city of Mariupol could fall into Russian hands within hours, a Ukrainian official said.
- Russia and Ukraine agreed on a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to flee the city.
- Ukraine had recently received fighter jets and spare parts to strengthen its air force.
After nearly two months under siege, the southern city of Mariupol could fall into Russian hands within “hours,” a Ukrainian official said as the two sides agreed on Wednesday on a humanitarian corridor allowing civilians to flee the devastated port city.
While fighting raged in the country’s east and south, European Council President Charles Michel arrived in Kiev as the latest sign of strengthening ties between Ukraine and the EU.
“In Kiev today. In the heart of a free and democratic Europe,” he wrote on social media.
Michel’s visit comes as the West continues to pour weapons into Ukraine amid a renewed Russian advance in the eastern Donbas region, where a new offensive launched this week has led to an increase in fighting.
Hours before Michel’s arrival, the Pentagon said Ukraine had recently received fighter jets and spare parts to strengthen its air force, following repeated calls from Kiev for heavier weapons.
The Pentagon declined to say the number of planes and their origins.
The announcement came as the battle for Mariupol seemed to be approaching a decisive climax after months of devastating fighting that has seen countless civilians captured and killed.
Control of Mariupol and the separatist-controlled Donbas region to the east would allow Moscow to create a southern corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, depriving Ukraine of much of its coastline.
In the latest ultimatum issued in its fight to conquer Mariupol, Moscow made another appeal to the city’s defenders to surrender on Wednesday at. 14:00 Moscow time (11:00 GMT) 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 of the besieged Azovstal steelworks issued a desperate plea for help, saying his Marines “might be facing our last days, if not hours.”
“The enemy surpasses us 10 to one,” said Serhiy Volyna of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade.
“We appeal and plead with all world leaders to help us. We ask them to use the extraction procedure and take us to the territory of a third party state.”
Thousands of soldiers and civilians remain trapped in the facility.
An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol described a “terrible situation” in the surrounded complex and reported that up to 2,000 people – mostly women and children – were missing “normal” supplies of drinking water, food and fresh air.
In an interview broadcast on CNN on Tuesday, Pavlo Kyrylenko – who oversees the Donetsk region’s military administration – insisted that Mariupol remained in contention.
“The Ukrainian flag is waving over the city,” he said.
“There are certain districts where street fighting continues. I can not say that the Russians control them.”
Kyiv offered a respite and said early Wednesday that they had agreed with Russian forces to open a safe route for civilians to flee the devastated city.
“We have succeeded in reaching a preliminary agreement on a humanitarian corridor for women, children and the elderly,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Telegram.
Elsewhere on the front line, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported that its troops had repulsed a Russian attack in the city of Izium, south of the partially blocked second city of Kharkiv in the east.
Kyiv also claimed the enemy’s losses in a Ukrainian counterattack near the city of Marinka in Donetsk.
The governor of the eastern Lugansk region, Sergiy Gaiday, said the Ukrainian forces held out in the face of fierce fighting.
Russian forces meanwhile said on Wednesday that their forces had launched 73 airstrikes across Ukraine and hit dozens of places where troops were concentrated.
In eastern Kramatorsk of eastern Ukraine, a large city in the Donetsk region, the inhabitants were already equipped for the worst.
“It’s going to be a mess,” said Alexander, 53. “There’s nothing good to expect.”
Farther from the front lines, residents were still furious near the capital Kiev weeks after Russian forces withdrew from the area.
At a morgue in Bucha, families carefully searched for body bags and examined corpses looking for missing loved ones.
In the parking lot of the small communal morgue, the body bags arrived in wagons or were stacked 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, refusing to give a concrete figure at this point.
President Vladimir Putin has said that in February he launched the so-called military operation in Ukraine to save Russian-speakers in the country from a “genocide” carried out by a “neo-Nazi” regime.
But his forces have faced accusations of war crimes – most recently from EU Michel during his visit to Kiev on Wednesday, where he toured the devastated nearby town of Borodianka.
“In Borodianka. Like Bucha and too many other cities in Ukraine. History will not forget the war crimes that have been committed here,” Michel wrote on Twitter.
“There can be no peace without justice,” he added.
Ukrainian authorities have said that more than 1,200 bodies have been found in the Kyiv region so far.
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SE | Russia closes in on Ukraine’s besieged Mariupol
Source link SE | Russia closes in on Ukraine’s besieged Mariupol