Russians try to storm Mariupol plant




As the battle for the port ground on, Russia claimed it had taken control of several villages in other places in the eastern Donbas vicinity and destroyed 11 military Ukrainian military targets overnight, including three artillery warehouses. Russian attacks also hit populated areas of Ukraine.

Associated Press journalists also observed shelling in residential areas of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city; regional governor reported Oleh Sinehubov said three people were killed.

In the Luhansk area of the Donbas, Governor Serhiy Haidai said six people died during the shelling of a village, Gorskoi.

In Sloviansk, a town in northern Donbas, the media witnessed two soldiers arriving at the town’s hospital, one of them mortally wounded. Nearby, a small group of people gathered outside a church, where a priest blessed them with water on Holy Saturday.

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Servicemen of the militia from the Donetsk People’s Republic walk past damaged apartment buildings near the Mariupol plant.Credit:

While British officials said the Russians hadn’t attained meaningful new ground, Ukrainian officials announced a nationwide curfew ahead of Easter Sunday, a sign of the war’s disruption and threat to the complete country.

Mariupol, a part of the industrial vicinity in eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas, has been a meaningful Russian objective since the February 24 invasion began and has taken on outsize importance in the war. Completing its capture would give Russia its biggest victory in addition, after a nearly two-month siege reduced much of the city to a smoking ruin.

Occupying Mariupol would deprive the Ukrainians of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight in other places and allow Russia to create a land corridor with the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014. Russia-backed separatists control parts of the Donbas.

An adviser to Ukraine’s presidential office, Oleksiy Arestovich, said during a Saturday briefing that Russian forces had resumed air strikes on the Azovstal plant and were trying to storm it. A direct attempt to take the plant would represent a reversal from an order Russian President Vladimir Putin gave two days earlier.

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

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Firefighters walk past an apartment building damaged by Russian shelling in Odesa.Credit:

Ukrainian officials have estimated that about 2,000 of their troops are inside the plant along with the civilians sheltering in the facility’s underground tunnels. Arestovic said the Ukrainian forces were trying to counter the new attacks.

Earlier on Saturday, the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard, which has members holed up in the plant, released the footage of around two dozen women and children. The contents could not be independently verified.

If authentic, it would be the first video testimony of what life has been like for civilians nevertheless retained in Mariupol’s underground bunkers. The video showed soldiers giving sweets to children who respond with fist-bumps.

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One young girl says she and her relatives “haven’t seen neither the sky, nor the sun” since they left home on February 27.

The regiment’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, told The AP the video was shot on Thursday. The Azov Regiment has its roots in the Azov Battalion, which was formed in 2014 by far-right activists at the start of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and elicited criticism for some of its tactics.

More than 100,000 people — down from a pre-war population of about 430,000 — are believed retained in Mariupol with little food, water or heat, according to Ukrainian authorities, who calculate that over 20,000 civilians have been killed in the city during the Russian blockade.

Satellite images released this week showed what appeared to be a second mass grave near Mariupol, and local officials accused Russia of burying thousands of civilians to conceal the slaughter taking place there.

The Kremlin hasn’t responded to the satellite images.

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