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No surrender at Mariupol when Russian expires;  refugees exceed 5 million

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A Russian ultimatum to Ukrainian troops in Mariupol to surrender or die expired Wednesday afternoon without a massive surrender, but the commander of a unit meant to hold out in the beleaguered city said his forces could only survive a few days or so. a few hours.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that the number of refugees who have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24 has exceeded five million. More than half are children.

Ukraine said it had so far repelled an onslaught of thousands of Russian troops trying to advance in what Ukrainian officials are calling the Battle of Donbass, a new campaign to seize two provinces of the is claimed by Moscow on behalf of the separatists.

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In a video, the commander of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, one of the last units supposed to hold out in Mariupol, asked for international help to escape the city’s siege.

“It is our call to the world. It may be our last. We may only have a few days or hours left,” Major Serhiy Volyna said in a video uploaded to Facebook. “Enemy units are dozens of times larger than ours, they dominate in the air, in artillery, in ground troops, in equipment and in tanks.”

Volyna spoke in front of a white brick wall in what looked like a crowded room. Reuters could not verify where or when the video was taken or who else might have been there.

The nearly eight-week-long Russian invasion failed to capture any of Ukraine’s largest cities. Moscow was forced to withdraw from northern Ukraine after an assault on kyiv was repelled last month, but sent troops back for an assault on the east which began this week.

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In the ruins of Mariupol, site of the war’s heaviest fighting and worst humanitarian disaster, Russia was hitting Ukraine’s last main stronghold, the Azovstal steelworks, with bunker busters, kyiv said. Ukrainian officials said women and children were trapped in bunkers under the factory.

“The world is watching the killing of children online and staying silent,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

Russia has been trying to take full control of Mariupol since the early days of the war. Its capture would be a great strategic prize, linking territory held by pro-Russian separatists in the east with the Crimea region that Moscow annexed in 2014.

Russian-backed separatists said shortly before Wednesday’s 2:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) deadline that only five people had surrendered. The day before, Russia said no one had responded to a similar surrender request.

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Ukraine announced plans to send 90 buses to evacuate 6,000 civilians from Mariupol, saying it had reached a “preliminary agreement” with Russia on a safe corridor for the first time in weeks. But none of these previous agreements really succeeded on the ground, with Moscow blocking all convoys.

Once a thriving port of 400,000 people, Mariupol has been reduced to a cursed wasteland with corpses on the streets and residents confined to cellars. Ukrainian officials say tens of thousands of civilians died there.

UN data showed 5.03 million people had fled Ukraine on Wednesday, taking the total above 5 million for the first time.

“They left behind their homes and their families,” Filippo Grandi, head of UNHCR’s refugee agency, said on Twitter. ”…Each new attack shatters their hopes. Only the end of the war can pave the way for the reconstruction of their lives.

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The battle for the Donbass region, which includes Lugansk and Donetsk provinces, could be decisive as Russia seeks a victory to justify President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion. Putin says Ukraine mistreated Russian speakers in the Donbass, an accusation kyiv rejects as false.

Russian television showed Putin speaking to a girl from Luhansk on Wednesday: “It was the tragedy that happened in the Donbass, including in the Luhansk People’s Republic, that forced, simply forced Russia to launch this military operation, of which everyone is well aware today. ,” he said.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Russia was focused on advancing towards the strategically important city of Sloviansk in the Donbass, but “so far they are not succeeding”. Targeting this area from multiple directions is part of an apparent effort to surround Ukrainian forces to the east.

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Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted that “Russia’s military capability has been significantly reduced” since the start of the war. “We defeat and will continue to defeat the occupiers!”

Peace talks have stalled. The Kremlin has accused kyiv of delaying the talks and changing its positions. kyiv accuses Moscow of blocking the talks by refusing humanitarian ceasefires, in particular to relieve besieged Mariupol.

British military intelligence said fighting in Donbass was intensifying as Russian forces tried to break through Ukrainian lines and Russia continued to build up its forces on Ukraine’s eastern border.

Moscow hopes its firepower advantage will give it more success against Ukrainian defenders than it did in the failed campaign against kyiv, when its overloaded supply lines came under attack from small, nimble units.

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A day after the launch of the Donbass offensive, Russian forces on Tuesday captured Kreminna, a frontline town of 18,000 people. The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces attempted an offensive near Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, close to Russia’s supply lines to Donbass.

Charles Michel, head of the European Council which brings together the 27 EU member states, arrived in Kyiv as the latest EU official to visit and show his support.

In the latest sign of Russia’s international isolation, sports industry news site Sportico has announced that Russian players will be banned from the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

The All England Lawn Tennis Club, which organizes the Grand Slam event, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Making sportsmen hostage to political intrigues is unacceptable.”

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets in Ukraine and Reuters reporters; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Philippa Fletcher)



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