Ukraine defies as key port Mariupol faces the abyss

The stricken port city of Mariupol was on the brink of collapse Russian forces today after seven weeks of siege.

The Russian military estimated that about 2,500 Ukrainian fighters waited in a huge steel mill with a maze of underground passages forming the last stronghold in Mariupol.

Russia set another deadline for their surrender, saying those who laid down their arms “were guaranteed their lives” but Ukraine remained defiant.

“Anyone who continues to resist will be destroyed,” said Major General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry.

The capture of Mariupol would free Russian forces to weaken and encircle Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is concentrating its war aims for now, using personnel and equipment pulled from the north after the failed capture of Kyiv.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described Mariupol as a “shield in Ukraine’s defense” as Russian troops prepare for a full-scale offensive in Donbass, the country’s eastern industrial hub, where Moscow-backed separatists already control some areas.

As a reminder that no part of Ukraine was immune until the end of the war, Russian forces carried out fresh rocket attacks near Kyiv and elsewhere on Sunday in a bid to weaken Ukraine’s military capacity ahead of the expected attack in the east.

After the humiliating loss of the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, Russia’s military command on Friday pledged to step up missile attacks on the capital. The Russian military said Sunday it had attacked a munitions factory near Kyiv with precision-guided missiles overnight, the third such attack in as many days.

Meanwhile President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the world should be ready for the prospect of Vladimir Putin using nuclear weapons.

Speaking from the country’s capital, Kyiv, Mr Zelensky expressed his fears that the Russian president might also be ready to use chemical weapons against Ukraine.

Asked if he was worried about the prospect of a nuclear attack by CNN, Mr. Zelensky said: “Not just me – the whole world, all countries have things to worry about.”

He added: “Chemical weapons … They could do it, for them people’s lives [is] Nothing. That’s why. We should think, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, but be ready.

“But this is not a question for Ukraine, not just for Ukraine, but for the whole world, I think.”

According to Zelenskyy, around 2,500 to 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died in the conflict so far and another 10,000 have been injured.

However, he is unsure of the civilian death toll.

He said: “It’s very difficult to talk about civilians because south of our country, where the cities are blocked – Kherson, Berdyansk, Mariupol further east and the area to the east where Volnovakha is located – we just don’t know how many people have died in this restricted area.”

Meanwhile, Austria’s Chancellor, after meeting Vladimir Putin in Moscow, has said that the Russian president is “in his own war logic” over Ukraine.

Karl Nehammer told NBC in an interview that he believes Mr Putin believes he is winning the war.

The politician was the first European leader to meet Putin in Moscow since Russia began its invasion on February 24.

He said: “We have to look him in the eye and confront him with what we see in Ukraine.”

Prior to his arrival in Moscow last Monday, Mr Nehammer had visited Bucha in Ukraine, the city outside of Kyiv where clear evidence of murder and torture has emerged following the withdrawal of Russian forces.

The chancellor told Meet the Press that he confronted Mr Putin about what he saw in Bucha and “it wasn’t a friendly conversation”.

He added that Mr Putin said: “On the one hand, he will cooperate with an international investigation, and on the other hand, he has told me that he does not trust the western world. So that will be the problem going forward.”

Separately, President Zelensky said he spoke with leaders of Britain and Sweden on Saturday about how best to help Mariupol’s defenders and the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the besieged city.

Mariupol’s fate can be decided either by battle or diplomacy, Zelenskyy said in his late-night video address to the nation.

“Either our partners give Ukraine all the necessary heavy weapons, the planes, without exaggeration, so that we can reduce the pressure of the occupying forces on Mariupol and break the blockade,” he said.

“Or we do this through negotiations, where the role of our partners should be crucial.”

Russia’s bombing of cities around Ukraine on Saturday included an explosion in Kharkiv that destroyed a communal kitchen.

Associated Press journalists at the scene chronicled the immediate aftermath of the apparent missile attack. Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said three people were killed and 34 injured in rocket attacks in that city alone on Saturday.

The kitchen was set up by World Central Kitchen, led by celebrity chef Jose Andres, to set up food systems in disaster and war zones. Mr Andres tweeted that the NGO’s staff were shaken but safe.

The organization says it has now reached 30 cities across the country, providing nearly 300,000 meals a day.

Mr Andres said the attack in Kharkiv showed that “giving food in the middle of a senseless war is an act of courage, resilience and resistance,” adding his group’s chefs would continue to cook for Ukraine.

In the UK, Prince Charles thought of the millions of displaced people “wounded by the past and afraid of the future” in his Easter message.

He highlighted their plight as thousands of Ukrainians continue to seek refuge from fighting in their homeland, following in the footsteps of millions of refugees who have already fled the Russian invasion.

He said that as he has met the “innocent victims of conflict” over the years, he has found it “deeply moving” to see the number of people willing to invite those in need into their homes.

In his message he said: “Today millions of people are displaced, tired from their journey from troubled places, wounded by the past, fearful of the future – and in need of a welcome, calm and kindness.

“In recent years I have been heartbroken by the sufferings of the innocent victims of conflict or persecution, some of whom I have met and who have told me stories of unspeakable tragedy as they were forced to flee their countries and seek refuge far away homeland.

“But amidst all this sadness and inhumanity, it has been deeply moving to see how so many people are willing to open their homes to those in need, and how they have offered their time and resources to help those struggling with such soul-shattering suffering are confronted with and need”. Ukraine defies as key port Mariupol faces the abyss

Fry Electronics Team

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