Putin congratulates defense minister on fall of Mariupol, but Ukrainians defend Azovstal bunker

Retired Tamara, 64, said she was going to stay with her sister in Zaporizhzhya. She left with her husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandson.

“It is a pleasure … to leave after this nightmare. We’ve lived in cellars for thirty days,” she said in tears.

A Ukrainian naval commander, Serhiy Volny, said fighters at the steel mill may not last much longer. President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that an estimated 1,000 civilians are seeking refuge there.

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Ukraine was ready for a “special round of negotiations” with no preconditions “to rescue our boys…military, civilians, children, the living and the injured,” negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.

Kiev has proposed exchanging Russian prisoners of war for safe passage for imprisoned civilians and soldiers. It was not known whether Russia had responded to the offer of special negotiations.

Fighters remain hidden in the factory and have ignored an ultimatum from Russia to surrender.

Elsewhere in the east, Russian forces had launched attacks on dozens of military facilities and shot down a Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter near the village of Kooviy Yar, the defense ministry said.

British military intelligence said the Russian armed forces were eager to achieve significant success by May 9, known as Victory Day in Russia, as it commemorates Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945. Putin’s air force provided close support to the offensive in the east as Russian forces were advancing towards the city of Kramatorsk.

Analysts say the offensive in the east could degenerate into a grim war of attrition if Russia takes on Ukraine’s most experienced, battle-hardened forces, who have fought in pro-Moscow Donbas for the past eight years.

Putin said Wednesday’s first test launch of Russia’s Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, a new and highly anticipated addition to its nuclear arsenal, will provide “food for thought for those who, in the fire of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, seek to threaten our country” .

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

The Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile is launched from Plesetsk in northwestern Russia.Credit:AP

Russia calls its raid a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Kiev and its western allies reject that as a false pretext for a war of their choice.

The Spanish and Danish prime ministers were due to visit Zelensky in Kiev on Thursday to show support, in the wake of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the leaders of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

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US President Joe Biden will provide an update on a new weapons package for Ukraine, which is likely to be similar in scope to an $800 million ($1,000) package announced last week, a US official said.

Mariupol, once a prosperous coastal town of 400,000 people, is now a wasteland with corpses in the streets as Russia slammed the Azovstal steel factory with bunker-buster bombs, the Kiev government said.

The deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov regiment in Mariupol, Svyatoslav Kalamar, said several bunkers under the factory still hold about 80-100 civilians.

Republican militias pass damaged vehicles during heavy fighting in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol.

Republican militias pass damaged vehicles during heavy fighting in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol.Credit:AP Photo / Alexei Alexandrov

A Ukrainian posted a video plea to Facebook urging world leaders to help evacuate people from the factory, 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.

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Reuters, AP

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