Hopes fade for truce over Orthodox Easter as Russian campaign continues

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Hopes for a weekend truce in Ukraine to celebrate the Orthodox Easter faded with talks between Moscow and Kyiv stalled as Russia said it aimed to take full control over the east and south of its neighbour.

The war enters its third month on Sunday. A senior Russian military officer said "the second phase of the special operation" -- as Moscow terms its invasion of Ukraine -- had only begun.

"One of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over the Donbas and southern Ukraine," Major General Rustam Minnekaev said on Friday.

Russian forces, which withdrew from around Kyiv and the north of Ukraine after being frustrated in their attempts to take over the capital, already occupy much of the eastern Donbas region and the south.

Minnekaev said their aim was now to "provide a land corridor to Crimea," which Russia annexed in 2014, and towards a breakaway pro-Russian region of Moldova, Transnistria, where the general claimed Russian-speaking people were "being oppressed".

Ukrainian authorities have vowed to fight on and drive the Russian troops from their land, but they had attempted to ensure an Easter pause.

"Unfortunately, Russia rejected the proposal to establish an Easter truce," President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday.

In his regular Friday night address, Zelensky said the Russian general's comments were a clear articulation of Moscow's goals.

Mariupol resistance continues

Ukraine's government, emboldened by an influx of Western weaponry, said its beleaguered forces were still holding out inside a sprawling steelworks in the razed port city of Mariupol.

The Kremlin has claimed the "liberation" of Mariupol, which is pivotal to its war plans nearly two months after President Vladimir Putin ordered the shock invasion of Russia's Western-leaning neighbour.

In a phone call to Putin, EU chief Charles Michel appealed for humanitarian access to Mariupol, which has been largely destroyed by weeks of intense Russian bombardment.

"Strongly urged immediate humanitarian access and safe passage from Mariupol and other besieged cities, all the more on the occasion of Orthodox Easter," Michel tweeted.

Putin however accused Kyiv of refusing to allow its troops to surrender in Mariupol.

"All servicemen of the Ukrainian armed forces, militants of the national battalions and foreign mercenaries who laid down their arms are guaranteed life," Putin told Michel, the Kremlin said.

"But the Kyiv regime is not allowing this opportunity to be used."

Those who surrender will save their lives

Ukraine says hundreds of its forces and civilians are holed up inside the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, and Kyiv has repeatedly called for a ceasefire to allow women, children and the elderly to safely exit the shattered city.

Russia's defence ministry earlier said it was ready to observe a humanitarian pause if Kyiv's troops surrendered.

"The enemy's offensive operation in the south hinges on Mariupol. The enemy is trying to focus all its efforts on it," Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern region of Donetsk, told the French AFP news agency.

Seeking a way to end the bloodshed, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres will meet Putin in Moscow next week, and could also visit Zelensky in Kyiv, the UN announced.

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