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Russia says its forces clear most of Mariupol, hit Kyiv suburbs


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KYIV/LVIV/MARIUPOL – Russia said its troops had cleared the urban area of ​​Mariupol and only a small contingent of Ukrainian fighters remained inside a steel mill in the beleaguered southern port on Saturday, as airstrikes from missiles were hitting the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and other cities.

Moscow’s claim to have virtually taken control of Mariupol, the scene of the war’s heaviest fighting and worst humanitarian catastrophe, could not be independently verified. It would be the first major city to fall to Russian forces since the February 24 invasion.

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“The situation is very difficult” in Mariupol, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the Ukrainska Pravda news portal. “Our soldiers are blocked, the wounded are blocked. There is a humanitarian crisis… Yet the guys are defending themselves.

The Russian Defense Ministry has said that if Ukrainian forces at the Azovstal steelworks lay down their arms from 0300 GMT on Sunday, their lives will be spared, Tass news agency said. A senior Russian officer reportedly said the offer, made after weeks of fierce fighting, was motivated by “the catastrophic situation” at the steelworks as well as “purely human principles”.

There was no immediate response from Kyiv.

As Moscow launched long-range missile attacks across the country after its Black Sea flagship sank, Moscow said its warplanes hit a tank repair factory in kyiv on Saturday. An explosion was heard and smoke rose over the southeastern district of Darnytskyi. The mayor said at least one person had been killed and medics were fighting to save others.

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The Ukrainian military said Russian warplanes that took off from Belarus fired missiles at the Lviv region near the Polish border and four cruise missiles were shot down by Ukrainian air defenses.

The western town has been relatively unscathed so far and serves as a haven for refugees and international aid agencies.

In Mariupol, Reuters journalists reached the Ilyich Steelworks, one of two metallurgical plants where the defenders had resisted in underground tunnels and bunkers. Moscow claimed to have captured him on Friday.

The factory was reduced to a ruin of twisted steel and blown concrete, with no sign of defenders present. Several bodies of civilians were scattered in the surrounding streets.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its troops had “completely emptied” the Mariupol urban area of ​​Ukrainian forces and blocked the “remains” in the Azovstal steelworks, the RIA news agency reported. He said that on Saturday Ukrainian forces in the city had lost more than 4,000 men.

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Later Saturday, Zelenskiy accused Russia of “deliberately trying to destroy everyone” in Mariupol and said his government was in contact with the defenders. But he did not respond to Moscow’s assertion that Ukrainian forces were no longer in urban districts.

The governor of eastern Kharkiv province said at least one person was killed and 18 injured in a missile strike. Smoke billowed from burning cars and the remains of what appeared to be an office building in the city.

In Mykolaiv, a town near the southern front, Russia said it hit a military vehicle repair factory.

The attacks followed Russia’s announcement on Friday that it would step up its long-range strikes in retaliation for unspecified acts of ‘sabotage’ and ‘terrorism’, hours after confirming the sinking of its flagship Black Sea, the Moskva.

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kyiv and Washington claim that the ship, whose sinking has become a symbol of Ukrainian defiance, was hit by Ukrainian missiles. Moscow says she sank after a fire and her crew of around 500 were evacuated.

The Russian Defense Ministry released a video of Navy chief Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov meeting on a parade ground about 100 sailors who he said were part of the crew.

A month and a half after President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Russia is trying to seize territories in the south and east after withdrawing from the north following an assault on kyiv which was pushed back to the outskirts of the capital.

Russian troops retreating from the north left behind towns littered with the bodies of civilians, evidence of what US President Joe Biden this week called genocide.

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Russia denies targeting civilians and says the purpose of its “special military operation” is to disarm its neighbor, defeat nationalists and protect separatists in the southeast.

CAPTURE WOULD BE RUSSIA’S BIGGEST PRIZE

If Mariupol falls, it would be the biggest prize of Russia’s war so far. It is the main port of Donbass, a region of two provinces to the south-east which Moscow demands that it be entirely ceded to the separatists.

Ukraine says it has so far held back Russian advances elsewhere in the Donbass regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where at least one person has been killed in overnight shelling.

Ukraine gained the upper hand at the start of a war, in part by successfully deploying mobile units armed with Western-supplied anti-tank missiles against Russian armored convoys confined to roads by muddy terrain.

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But Putin appears determined to capture more Donbass territory to claim victory in a war that has left Russia under increasingly punitive Western sanctions and with few allies.

The next round of European Union sanctions against Russia will target banks, including Sberbank, as well as oil, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Ukraine’s military command in the east, where kyiv says it expects a major assault, said in a Facebook post that it repelled 10 attacks on Saturday, destroying 15 tanks, 24 other armored vehicles and three artillery systems. Reuters could not independently verify the report.

Zelenskiy told Ukrainian reporters that the world should prepare for the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons. He did not provide evidence for the claim.

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Last month, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would only use nuclear weapons if there was a “threat to the existence” of the country – not as a result of the Ukraine conflict.

An adviser to Zelenskiy said the country needed a faster supply of arms from its European Union partners.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its anti-aircraft systems in the Odessa region shot down a Ukrainian transport plane delivering weapons supplied by Western governments. He provided no evidence. There was no immediate comment from Kyiv.

Zelenskiy said around 2,500-3,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed so far and up to 20,000 Russian troops.

Moscow has given no update on its casualties since March 25, when it said 1,351 people had died. Western estimates of Russian casualties are several times higher.

Ukraine says civilian deaths are impossible to count, estimating at least 20,000 killed in Mariupol alone.

Overall, around a quarter of Ukrainians have been driven from their homes, including a tenth of the population who have fled abroad.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Hamuda Hassan and Marko Djurica in Lysychansk, Reuters reporters in Mariupol and Reuters offices worldwide; Writing by Peter Graff, Conor Humphries and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Frances Kerry, Angus MacSwan and Daniel Wallis)

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