Mariupol targeted; US could send more military aid

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Ukrainian forces continued to fight in the besieged city of Mariupol on Wednesday after a Russian ultimatum to troops holed up in the Azovstal steelworks to lay down their arms was passed without a massive surrender.

Amid Siege of Mariupol and a Shift in Fighting to Eastern Ukraine, US Officials Consider New Military Aid Program for Ukraine

Reuters and the BBC reported there was no sign that Ukrainian forces were giving in, and Oleksiy Arestovych, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a social media post that the city was being held as the fighting continued.

According to the Deputy Commander of Interior Forces, the remaining Ukrainian forces in Mariupol held onto the sprawling steel plant for several days despite the Russian military dropping heavy bombs and threatening to flatten the building.

The factory covers 4 square miles, including a network of tunnels. More than 1,000 civilians and soldiers are inside, Reuters reported, while Russian estimates say a few thousand Ukrainian soldiers are inside.

With humanitarian corridors established for the first time in several days, Mariupol’s mayor on Wednesday urged the city’s remaining civilians to flee.

Capturing the city is key to Russia’s objectives, as it would be securing a land corridor from Russia to the occupied territory of Crimeaand the steel plant complex is probably the last Ukrainian stronghold.

Moscow’s attacks on Mariupol are part of its new wartime strategy: to switch to a heavy offensive in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass, parts of which were controlled by Russian-backed forces before the invasion.

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Latest developments:

►More than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, according to the latest count from the UN refugee agency as of Wednesday.

►Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, told CNN on Wednesday that 80% of the region’s territory was under Russian control.

Benny Gantz, Israeli Minister of Defense said on Wednesday that the country would provide protective equipment such as helmets and vests to Ukrainian rescue forces and civilian organizations. Although it has provided humanitarian aid, Israel has refused to provide Ukraine with arms and other forms of direct military assistance.

►Nuclear regulators have regained telephone contact with Chernobyl plant operators more than a month after contact was lost, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement. communicated.

►Russian and Belarusian tennis players will be banned from competing at Wimbledon due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, event organizers announced on Wednesday.

►More than 5,000 Ukrainian refugees were detained upon entering the United States through land, sea or air borders last month, according to new data from Customs and Border Protection.

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US officials are considering a new military aid program for Ukraine that includes US artillery guns while working with allies in Eastern Europe to send them Soviet-era long-range rockets to penetrate deeper into Russian lines, a Defense Ministry official said on Wednesday.

The new weapons would follow an $800 million package approved last week that included howitzers. It comes as Russia has concentrated its forces in eastern Ukraine, where artillery and armored vehicles are expected to play a central role in the fighting.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said more military aid was likely to be sent to Ukraine in the coming months. US artillery will come from existing stocks and will not affect readiness, the official said.

When asked by a reporter on Tuesday whether his administration would send more artillery to Ukraine, President Joe Biden said “yes,” but did not elaborate.

– Tom Vanden Brook

HELSINKI — Estonia has said it is banning public gatherings where people display Russian military flags and symbols during Victory Day celebrations on May 9, which is traditionally celebrated by the country’s large ethnic Russian population. Baltic to mark the end of World War II.

“The Estonian state has so far been tolerant of the events of May 9, but Russia’s current activities in Ukraine prevent public meetings in Estonia expressing support for the aggressor state and displaying symbols of war,” police and border guard chief Elmar Vaher said Wednesday.

Police said Wednesday that commemorating those killed in World War II was not banned in the country, but “it should not be used to incite violence and hatred between people.”

Prohibited symbols include the flags of the Soviet Union and Russia, military uniforms of the USSR, and the black-orange ribbon of St. George worn in Russia to mark the victory of the Soviet Union over Germany. Nazi during World War II.

The ban is valid until May 10 and applies to the capital, Tallinn, and its surroundings.

Ethnic Russians make up about 25% of Estonia’s 1.3 million people, and they traditionally gather to lay flowers on May 9 at the Tallinn Bronze Soldier statue commemorating Red Army troops fallen during the battles of the Second World War in Estonia.

– Associated press

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Russian troops were advancing towards Zaporizhzhia and fighting was taking place in the area, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday.

The head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, Oleksandr Starukh, described the new advance as “a massive offensive”, according to the official Ukrinform news agency. The city’s regional council also warned of the Russian advance, CNN reported.

Starukh said the area around the town of Polohy had worsened with daily attacks, Ukrinform reported, while the regional council said Russian troops were advancing towards Huliaipole and Pokrovske, CNN reported.

The city of Zaporizhzhia is part of a humanitarian evacuation route from Mariupol which Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said would take place on Wednesday.

The remaining residents of the port city of Mariupol are expected to leave as Russian forces surround the last Ukrainian defense pocket inside the Azovstal steelworks, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said on Wednesday.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Facebook that a humanitarian corridor for women, children and the elderly had been agreed. Boychenko said buses, including one that would pick up residents near the steel plant, would be used for the evacuation. Previous attempts relied on private cars as buses could not access the besieged city on the Sea of ​​Azov.

“Do not be afraid and evacuate to Zaporizhzhia, where you can get all the help you need – food, medicine, basic necessities – and the main thing is that you will be safe,” Boychenko wrote in a statement. published by the city council.

More than 400,000 people lived in Mariupol before the Russian invasion, at least half of whom have since fled, Boychenko said. Russian shelling for weeks left the city flat and the citizens without food or water.

Russia’s attacks in eastern Ukraine mark a new phase in the war as US officials believe they will prelude a major offensive in the Donbass region, a senior US official has said. Department of Defense an official said Tuesday.

The attacks, southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum, came as Russia continues to build up its forces in Ukraine and resupply those already inside the country, the official said. on condition of anonymity to discuss the results of the intelligence services.

The Russians inserted two battalion tactical groups into Ukraine over the past day, bringing their numbers to 78, the official said. Russian battalions vary in size from around 800 to 1,000 soldiers.

Ukrainian and Russian officials acknowledged on Tuesday that the war had entered a new phase. The Ukrainian military said “the occupiers tried to break through our defenses along almost the entire front line”, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the goal was the “total liberation” of Donetsk and Luhansk.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for a four-day pause in hostilities in Ukraine to observe Holy Week in the Orthodox Christian tradition.

Guterres said the break should start on Thursday and said it was even more necessary given the escalation of attacks in eastern Ukraine this week.

“The onslaught and terrible civilian toll we have seen so far may pale in comparison to the horror that lies ahead. This cannot be allowed to happen,” Guterres told reporters, urging Russians and Ukrainians “to silence the guns and chart a path to safety for so many in immediate danger.”

Asked about Guterres’ proposal at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said he was “skeptical” but that the decision would be up to Russian leaders.

Contributor: Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY; The Associated Press