The attack was reported by an adviser to Ukraine’s Presidential Office as an estimated 1,000 civilians, along with the remaining Ukrainian fighters, took shelter at the Azovstal plant while Russian forces ramped up their offensive elsewhere in the eastern Donbass region amid fierce Ukrainian counterattacks.
Presidential Advisor Oleksiy Arestovich said during a briefing that Russian forces had resumed airstrikes on the huge seafront plant and were attempting to storm it in a reversal of an order given by Russian President Vladimir Putin to two given days earlier.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin on 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 Russian troops into the plant, but to cordon off 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. Arestovic said Ukrainian forces were trying to counter the new attacks.
Earlier on Saturday, the Azov regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard, members of which are holed up at the factory, released footage of around two dozen women and children, some of whom said had been in the mill’s underground tunnels for two months, longing to 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. For us it’s happiness.”
The regiment’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, told The Associated Press the video was shot on Thursday, the same day Russia declared victory over the rest of Mariupol. The content could not be independently verified.
Both Ukrainian and Russian authorities said the Azovstal plant is the last remaining defensive stronghold in Mariupol, which is strategic to Moscow and has been under siege since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
According to Ukrainian authorities, 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 warmth.
Footage from Azovstal showed soldiers giving candy to children who responded with punches. A young girl says she and her relatives “have not seen the sky or the sun” since leaving home on February 27.
Over 20,000 civilians were killed in Mariupol during the nearly two-month siege. Satellite images released this week appeared to show mass graves near Mariupol, and local officials accused Russia of burying thousands of civilians to hide the slaughter taking place there.
Ukrainian officials had said they tried again Saturday 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.
Russia has withdrawn a dozen crack military units from Mariupol to step up the offensive elsewhere in the eastern Donbass region, while other troops continue to hold the remaining Ukrainian troops in the city at the compound, Ukrainian officials said.
In the Donbas, Russian troops continued their offensive to fully seize Ukraine’s industrial heartland but made little headway as fierce Ukrainian counterattacks have slowed their efforts, Ukrainian and British officials said on Saturday.
Ukrainian forces repelled eight Russian attacks in the two regions in the past 24 hours, destroying nine tanks, 18 armored units and 13 vehicles, one tanker and three artillery systems, the Ukrainian General Staff said.
“Units of Russian occupying forces are regrouping. The Russian enemy continues to launch missile and bomb attacks on military and civilian infrastructure,” the General Staff said on its Facebook page.
Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Saturday that two people were killed by Russian shelling in the town of Popasna. Separately, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov said on Telegram on Saturday 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.
“Besides the fact that street fighting in the city (Popasna) has been going on for several weeks, the Russian army is constantly firing at multi-storey apartment buildings and private houses,” Haidai wrote on the messaging app Telegram. “Only yesterday local residents withstood five enemy artillery attacks. … Not all survived.”
Despite their increased activity, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said: “Russian forces have not made any major advances over the past 24 hours as Ukrainian counterattacks continue to hamper efforts.”
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 Ministry of Defense.
In total, the Kremlin has thrown more than 100,000 soldiers and mercenaries from Syria and Libya into combat in Ukraine and is sending more forces into the country every day, Danilov said.
“We have a difficult situation, but our army defends our state,” he said.
In western Ukraine, regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy announced a curfew for the Lviv region ahead of Orthodox Easter. Kozytskyy, citing “new information”, said the curfew would run from 11pm Saturday to 5am Sunday and then every day between those hours until further notice.
“Unfortunately, the enemy does not have such a concept as a major religious holiday,” Kozytskyy wrote.
During the war Mariupol became of overriding importance. Full capture would deprive Ukrainians of a vital port and allow Russia to create a land corridor with the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Taking over the city would also allow Putin to throw more of his forces into the potentially dramatic battle over Donbass and its coal mines, factories and other industries.
The city was largely reduced to smoking rubble by weeks of bombardment, and Russian state television showed the flag of pro-Moscow-Donetsk separatists hoisted atop 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.
Under cover of darkness, Ukrainian forces managed to deliver weapons to the besieged steelworks by helicopter, said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.
The latest satellite photos from Maxar Technologies revealed what appeared to be a second mass grave near Mariupol. Several newly dug parallel ditches about 40 meters long are located at a cemetery in the town of Vynohradne, Maxar said in a statement.
Earlier, Maxar released photos of what appeared to be rows of more than 200 freshly dug mass graves next to a cemetery in the city of Manhush outside Mariupol. This led to Ukrainian accusations that the Russians are trying to cover up the slaughter of civilians in the city.
Ukrainians estimated the graves seen in photos released Thursday could contain 9,000 bodies.
The Kremlin did not respond to the satellite images.
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https://abc13.com/ukraine-mariupol-russia-crisis/11782846/ Ukraine reports that Russians tried to storm the Mariupol plant