Russian forces appear to be on the brink of capturing the port city of Mariupol, according to reports.
The Russian military estimate that about 2,500 Ukrainian fighters holding out at a hulking steel plant with a warren of underground passageways provided the last pocket of resistance in the besieged city.
Russia gave a deadline for their surrender, saying those who put down their weapons were “guaranteed to keep their lives,” but the Ukrainians did not submit.
“All those who will continue resistance will be destroyed,” Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
He said intercepted communications indicated there were about 400 foreign mercenaries along with the Ukrainian troops at the Azovstal steel mill. .
Seizing Mariupol would free up Russian forces to weaken and encircle Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has focused its war aims for now and is deploying personnel and equipment withdrawn from the north after a botched attempt to take Kyiv.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described Mariupol as a “shield defending Ukraine” as Russian troops prepare for a full-scale offensive in Donbas, the country’s eastern industrial heartland where Moscow-backed separatists already control some territory.
He said intercepted communications indicated there were about 400 foreign mercenaries along with the Ukrainian troops at the Azovstal steel mill, a claim that couldn’t be independently verified.
After the humiliating loss of the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, Russia’s military command vowed on Friday to step up missile strikes on the capital.
The Russian military said on Sunday that it had attacked an ammunition plant near Kyiv overnight with precision-guided missiles, the third such strike in as many days.