Russian forces in Ukraine yesterday attempted to storm a steel plant housing soldiers and civilians in the southern city of Mariupol while trying to smash the last corner of resistance at a place of high symbolic and strategic value for Moscow, said Ukrainian officials.
He reported that the attack came on the eve of Orthodox Easter, after the Kremlin claimed its military had captured all of Mariupol except for the Azovstal complex, and as the Russian military bombed other cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine.
Officials reported Russia fired at least six cruise missiles at the Black Sea port city of Odessa, killing five people.
The fate of the Ukrainians hiding in the sprawling seaside steelworks was not immediately clear. Early yesterday a Ukrainian military unit released a video, reportedly taken two days earlier, in which women and children, sometimes hiding underground for up to two months, said they longed to see the sun.
“We want to see peaceful skies, we want to breathe fresh air,” said one woman in the video. “They just have no idea what it means for us to just eat, drink some sweetened tea. It’s lucky for us.”
As fighting continued around devastated Mariupol, Russia claimed it took control of several villages in the eastern Donbass region and destroyed 11 military Ukrainian military targets overnight, including three artillery camps.
Associated Press journalists observed shelling in residential areas of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, and in Sloviansk, a city in northern Donbass. They saw two soldiers arrive at the city’s hospital, one mortally wounded, while a small group gathered outside a church where a priest sprinkled them with holy water yesterday.
While British officials said the Russians had not gained significant new territory, Ukrainian officials today announced a nationwide curfew ahead of Orthodox Easter Sunday, a sign of the war’s disruption and threat to the entire country.
Mariupol, part of the industrial region of eastern Ukraine known as Donbass, has been a key Russian target since the invasion began on February 24 and has assumed outsized importance in the war. Complete conquest would give Russia its biggest victory yet, after a nearly two-month siege reduced much of the city to smoking ruins and killed an estimated 20,000 people there.
The occupation of Mariupol would deprive Ukrainians of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere and allow Russia to create a land corridor with the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
An adviser to Ukraine’s Presidential Office, Oleksiy Arestovich, said yesterday that Russian forces had resumed airstrikes on the Azovstal plant and were attempting to storm it. A direct attempt to take over the facility would constitute a reversal of an order given by Russian President Vladimir Putin two days earlier.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin last Thursday that all of Mariupol, with the exception of Azovstal, had been “liberated” by the Russians. At the time, Putin ordered him not to send troops into the plant, but to lock down the facility in an apparent attempt to starve the Ukrainians into surrendering.
Ukrainian officials have estimated that about 2,000 of their soldiers are at the facility, along with civilians taking shelter in the facility’s underground tunnels. Arestovich said Ukrainian forces were trying to counter the new attacks.
Yesterday morning, the Azov regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard, whose members are holed up in the factory, released footage of around two dozen women and children. If it were authentic, it would be the first video testimony of what life was like for civilians still trapped in Mariupol’s underground bunkers.
The regiment’s deputy commander Sviatoslav Palamar said the video was shot last Thursday, the same day Russia declared victory over the rest of Mariupol. The content could not be independently verified.
The Azov Regiment has its roots in the Azov Battalion, formed in 2014 by far-right activists at the start of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and drawing criticism for some of its tactics.
Footage from Azovstal showed soldiers giving candy to children who responded with punches. A young girl said she and her relatives “have not seen the sky or the sun” since they left home on February 27.
More than 100,000 people — less than a pre-war population of about 430,000 — are said to be trapped in Mariupol with little food, water or heat, according to Ukrainian authorities, who estimate more than 20,000 civilians have been killed in the city over the nearly two years – month siege.
Satellite images released this week appeared to show a second mass grave near Mariupol, and local officials accused Russia of burying thousands of civilians to hide the slaughter taking place there.
The Kremlin did not respond to the satellite images.
In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced all victims of the war and noted that the Easter holiday commemorates Christ’s resurrection after his death by crucifixion. “We believe in the victory of life over death,” he said. “No matter how fierce the battles, death has no chance of defeating life. Everyone knows that. Every Christian knows that.”
Ukrainian officials had said they tried again yesterday to evacuate women, children and older adults from Mariupol after many previous attempts had failed. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on messaging app Telegram that efforts were due to start around noon, but it was not clear how the new attack on the facility would affect a possible evacuation.
Russian state television showed the flag of the pro-Moscow Donetsk separatists, which was hoisted on what is said to be the city’s highest point, the TV tower. It also showed what it said the main building was on fire.
Russian forces also fired at least six cruise missiles at Odessa yesterday, said Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister. At least one landed and exploded, he said.
“City residents heard explosions in different areas,” Gerashchenko wrote in a Telegram post. “Residential buildings were hit. About a victim is already known. He burned to death in his car in a courtyard of one of the buildings.”
Ukrainian Presidential Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak later reported that a three-month-old baby was among the five people killed in the missile attack.
In Donbas, Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said yesterday that two people were killed by Russian shelling in the town of Popasna.
Separately, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov reported that two people were killed and 19 others injured by the Russian shelling.
Synehubov said that Russian forces fired 56 times in the past day at the region’s civilian infrastructure. Fierce Ukrainian counterattacks nevertheless slowed the Russian offensive in the east, Ukrainian and British officials said yesterday.
Russia has still not established air or sea control due to Ukrainian resistance, and despite Putin’s declaration of victory in Mariupol, “heavy fighting continues, frustrating Russian attempts to capture the city and thus further slowing down their desired progress in the Donbass.” This was announced by the British Ministry of Defense.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/we-want-to-see-peaceful-skies-first-video-testimony-from-civilians-trapped-in-mariupol-bunkers-41581792.html “We want to see a peaceful sky” – first video statement from civilians locked in Mariupol bunkers