President Putin has said he wants a steel factory in Mariupol, the last stronghold of resistance in the besieged southeastern city, to be blocked so that “a fly cannot get through”.
During a televised meeting in the Kremlin, he told Sergei Shoigu, his defense minister, to cancel an attack on the Azovstal factory.
“I think the proposed storming of the industrial zone is unnecessary,” Putin said.
“I order you to cancel it.”
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Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov previously claimed that Russian forces will take full control of the main port city today after Ukrainian defenders warned they could not “hold it any longer”.
The city has been a prime target for Russia since the war Ukraine started almost two months ago.
It is estimated that 1,000 civilians have been hiding from shelling and rocket attacks on the steel plant.
Putin said he had decided not to storm the factory to protect the lives of Russian soldiers.
“There’s no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,” he told Shoigu.
“Close this industrial area so no flies can get through.”
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Putin also called on the remaining Ukrainian fighters in Azovstal to surrender themselves and said Russia would treat them with respect and provide medical aid.
After holding out for days against near-constant attacks, Ukrainian Marines Commander Serhiy Volny warned that fighters at the factory may not “last much longer”.
Speaking to Sky News, he said there were “ten to one outnumbered” and more than 500 fighters are in need of medical attention.
“The enemy units are tens of times larger than ours, they have dominance in the air, in artillery, in ground forces, in equipment and in tanks,” he said.
Kadyrov, the head of the Russian republic of Chechnya, whose troops have been fighting in Ukraine, insisted Mariupol would fall today.
“Before lunch or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the troops of the Russian Federation,” he said.
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The fall of the city would be Moscow’s greatest victory in the war to date.
Ukraine offers to trade prisoners of war
On Wednesday, the situation in Mariupol became so desperate that Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, proposed exchanging Russian prisoners of war for a humanitarian corridor so civilians could leave the city safely.
Ukraine is ready for a “special round of negotiations” with no preconditions “to save our boys, Azov [battalion]soldiers, civilians, children, the living and the wounded,” said Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak.
Four evacuation buses carrying civilians from Mariupol left the city on Wednesday.
More than five million people have fled the country since the war broke out, but tens of thousands are believed to remain trapped in Mariupol with little food, water or access to medical supplies.
Russia successfully tests new missile
Russia continues its new offensive to take control of the eastern part of the country, the so-called Donbas region.
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Missiles and artillery struck 1,001 military targets in Ukraine overnight, including 162 firing positions, the country’s defense ministry said Thursday.
The mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, has said it was heavily bombed.
Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists have also taken full control of the city of Kreminna in eastern Ukraine.
The Luhansk governor has claimed that Russian troops now control 80% of his region.
Serhiy Haidai said Kremlin troops are now threatening the cities of Rubizhne and Popasna after taking control of Kreminna.
Only a miracle can be the fall of Mariupol. fuses
By Deborah Haynes, Security and Defense Editor
A decision by Vladimir Putin to cancel plans to storm the last resistance stronghold in Mariupol means the Ukrainian city has not completely fallen to Russia, but – barring a miracle – that should only be a matter of time.
The Russian president has instead ordered that a blockade be maintained around a sprawling steel mill, where thousands of Ukrainian fighters and hundreds of civilians are holed up so that not even a fly can escape.
It represents a brutal final stance for Ukrainian defenders who have endured nearly two months of sustained bombing raids, though it robs — or at least slows — the Kremlin to declare that the strategic port city is completely under Russian control.
The Ukrainian government is trying to ensure safe passage for its people, but there is no sign of convincing Russia to let them escape.
The seemingly inevitable fall of Mariupol would be the most significant capture of a Ukrainian city since the invasion began, with Russian forces believed to be achieving success ahead of the annual Victory Day on May 9, commemorating the end of World War II. .
However, the seizure of the city, which once had nearly half a million inhabitants, has come at a devastating cost to residents. More than 20,000 civilians have been killed, many more injured and hundreds of thousands have fled.
Mariupol itself is anything but bulldozed.
About 90 percent of the houses and buildings have been damaged by Russian attacks, and 40 percent of the buildings have been destroyed.
Before the Russian invasion, the Kiev government controlled 60% of the Luhansk region – one of two areas that make up the Donbas.
“The occupiers control only parts of these cities, unable to break through to the centers,” Haidai said on messaging app Telegram.
Analysts have said the offensive in the east could turn into a war of attrition as Russia faces Ukraine’s most experienced troops, who spent eight years fighting pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said two captured British fighters are being fed, watered and given necessary assistance.
“Don’t worry, the Russian side is taking care of them. They are fed, watered and given the necessary help. Just like other foreigners who have surrendered or been detained,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
On Monday, two British fighters captured by Russian forces in Ukraine appeared on Russian state television and asked to be exchanged for a Ukrainian ally of President Vladimir Putin.
Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin have asked to be traded for Viktor Medvedchuk, who is being held by Ukrainian authorities.