After Ukraine initiated discussions on evacuating troops and civilians from Mariupol, a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Russian forces will overrun the city’s final big stronghold of resistance on Thursday, April 21.
Mariupol would be Russia’s biggest city since entering Ukraine eight weeks ago in an attack that has seen over five million people move abroad and cities reduced to ruins, taking longer than some military analysts projected.
“Before lunchtime, or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the forces of the Russian Federation,” Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s republic of Chechnya, whose forces have been fighting in Ukraine, said of the steel plant.
The Ukrainian defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment right away.
According to Reuters sources, a small bus convoy of civilians managed to flee the strategically crucial southern port on Wednesday, escaping the war’s toughest assault.
Serhiy Volny, a Ukrainian marine commander, warned the steelworks’ fighters may not be able to hold out for much longer. According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, an estimated 1,000 citizens are taking refuge there.
Negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that Ukraine is ready for a “special round of negotiations” with no conditions “to save our guys, (the far right) Azov (battalion), military, civilians, children, the living and the wounded.”
Kyiv has suggested swapping Russian prisoners of war for safe passage for civilians and soldiers stranded in the conflict zone. It was unclear whether Russia had accepted the offer of special talks.
Fighters are still holed up at the facility, despite Russia’s ultimatum to surrender. On Wednesday, fewer civilians fled than expected.
Thousands of Russian troops have attempted to advance in what Kyiv refers to as the Battle of the Donbas, a new push to conquer two eastern provinces that Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
Russia’s forces had carried out strikes on dozens of military facilities in eastern Ukraine and had shot down a Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter near the village of Koroviy Yar, its defense ministry said.
Putin said the maiden test launch of Russia’s Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, a new and long-awaited addition to the country’s nuclear arsenal, will “give food for thought for those who, in the heat of feverish hostile language, try to threaten our country” on Wednesday.
Russia’s involvement is described as a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” Ukraine. That is a false justification for a war of choice, according to Kyiv and its Western supporters.
Russia should no longer participate in international forums, including the G20, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank meetings this week, according to G7 finance ministers.
At a Group of 20 summits in Washington, top officials from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada walked out on Russia’s representatives, revealing profound divides among the bloc of big countries.
The West has placed unprecedented penalties on Russia, and on Wednesday, Washington went even farther, imposing sanctions on dozens of persons and businesses, including a commercial bank.
Billowing clouds of smoke
Mariupol, once a prosperous seaside city of 400,000, is now a wasteland where corpses lie in the streets as Russia slams the Azovstal steel plant with bunker-buster bombs, the government in Kyiv said.
Svyatoslav Kalamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment in Mariupol, said numerous shelters beneath the facility still held 80-100 civilians each.
On Wednesday, evacuees rushed to board buses as black smoke billowed from the plant.
Tamara, a 64-year-old pensioner, stated that she would be staying with her sister in Zaporizhzhia. Her husband, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson were accompanying her.
“It is a pleasure… to leave after this nightmare. We lived in basements for 30 days,” she said tearfully.
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of violating a local ceasefire deal by not allowing huge numbers of people to flee. The charge was not met with an immediate response from Russia.
Moscow denies targeting civilians and accuses Ukraine of failing to prepare humanitarian routes out of Mariupol in the past.
If Russia takes Mariupol, it will form a link between pro-Russian rebel areas in the east and the Crimea region, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
After an assault on Kyiv was defeated last month, Moscow was forced to retreat from northern Ukraine but has now poured troops back in for an offensive in the east that began this week.
Russia was focusing its efforts on moving toward Sloviansk, but “so far they have failed,” according to Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych.
Meanwhile, peace negotiations have stalled.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, predicted that peace talks would fail and that world leaders, including the United States, would be blamed. On a phone call this week, President Joe Biden stated that they would continue to supply Ukraine with weapons.