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


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KYIV/MARIUPOL – Russian missile strikes hit the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and other cities on Saturday, as Moscow said its troops had cleared the Mariupol urban area and only a small contingent of fighters remained Ukrainians inside a steel mill in the beleaguered southern port.

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

“The situation is very difficult” in Mariupol, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 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.

As Russia launched longer-range attacks after the sinking of the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, Moscow said its warplanes hit a tank repair factory in kyiv. 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 the port city of Mariupol, Reuters reporters in Russian-held districts reached the Ilyich steelworks, one of two metallurgical plants where the defenders held out 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 lay scattered in the surrounding streets, including a woman dressed in a pink parka and white shoes.

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Russia says its forces clear most of Mariupol, hit Kyiv suburbs
A view shows the gates of the Illich steel plant damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 15, 2022. Photo by Alexander Ermoshenko /Reuters

Someone had spray painted “mined” on a fence near a defaced gas station. In a rare sign of life, a red car drove slowly down an otherwise empty street, the word “children” scrawled on a card taped to the windshield.

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 people, RIA added.

There was no immediate reaction from kyiv to the Russian claims.

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 at the scene of an attack in the city as rescuers cleared mounds of debris blocking the road outside.

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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.

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.

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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 – an attempt to erase Ukrainian national identity.

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.

“MARIUPOL WILL ALWAYS BE UKRAINE”

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.

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The owner of the two giant steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, has pledged to rebuild the city. “Mariupol has been and always will be a Ukrainian city,” Akhmetov told Reuters.

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.

In the frontline town of Luhansk, Lysychansk, civilians hunkered down and then fled for cover from incoming shells as thick smoke rose from a blackened store and burnt-out cars.

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.

Zelenskyy told Ukrainian reporters that the world should prepare “in many ways” for the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons. He did not provide evidence for the claim.

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 Zelenskyy said the country needed a faster supply of arms from its European Union partners. “Ukraine needs weapons. Not in a month. Now,” Mykhailo Podolyak said in a post on Twitter.

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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.

Zelenskyy 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, while there are few independent estimates of Ukrainian casualties.

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

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