‘Days or hours left’: Russia tightens the noose in Mariupol

Russia_Ukraine_War_52613 Ukrainian soldiers walk on a destroyed bridge in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_08749 Vova, 10, looks at the coffin carrying body of his mother, Maryna, as his father, Ivan Drahun, hugs him during her funeral in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Vova's mother died while they sheltered in a cold basement for more than a month during the Russian military's occupation.
Russia_Ukraine_War_45622 Vova, 10, looks at the grave of his mother, Maryna, while his father, Ivan Drahun, prays during her funeral in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Vova's mother died while they sheltered in a cold basement for more than a month during the Russian military's occupation.
Russia_Ukraine_War_06421 Ukrainians receive humanitarian aid organised by local volunteers in Irpin, in the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Citizens of Bucha are still without electricity, water and gas after more than 45 days since the Russian invasion began.
Russia_Ukraine_War_Refugees_5_Million_96560 Refugees from Ukraine get a haircut at a vast accommodation center set up at the Global EXPO exhibition hall in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. The United Nations’ refugee agency says that more than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. The Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 put the total number of refugees at 5.01 million.
Poland_Russia_Ukraine_War_73957 Ukraine refugee children playing inside a vast accommodation center set up at the Global EXPO exhibition hall in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. The number of people fleeing war in Ukraine has reached 5 million in almost 2 months since Russia's invasion, according to the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR. More than 2.8 million of them have come to Poland.
Ukraine_Russia_74794 A serviceman of Donetsk People's Republic militia walks past damaged during a heavy fighting mosque in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Taking Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized from Ukraine from 2014.
Russia_Ukraine_War_04091 Nikolay Godin, 65, who left his home in Severodonetsk due to the Russian attacks, sits at the top bunk settled in a restaurant that was transformed into a shelter for those who are fleeing the war from the eastern region of the country in Dnipro, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded the country. The agency announced the milestone in Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_71467 Interior ministry sappers prepare explosives in a hole to detonate them near a minefield, after recent battles at the village of Moshchun close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022.
APTOPIX_Russia_Ukraine_War_06711 A woman walks next to the body of a man killed during a Russian bombardment at a residential neighborhood in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Russia ratcheted up its battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland on Tuesday, intensifying assaults on cities and towns along a front hundreds of miles long in what officials on both sides described as a new phase of the war.
APTOPIX_Russia_Ukraine_War_52613 Ukrainian soldiers walk on a destroyed bridge in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
APTOPIX_Russia_Ukraine_War_01160 Displaced people have lunch cooked by volunteers, at a restaurant that was transformed into a shelter for those who are fleeing the war from eastern region of the country, in Dnipro, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded the country. The agency announced the milestone in Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_86071 In this image provided by the European Council, European Council President Charles Michel, center, as he is given a tour of the region of Borodyanka, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
APTOPIX_Russia_Ukraine_War_87043 Alexandra Kusminova pets her cat, named Mouse, as she sits on a bed settled in a restaurant that was transformed into a shelter for those who are fleeing the war from the eastern region of the country in Dnipro, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. "We pray every day for everything to be fine, so many people and children have died. For what? Why this war? ", asks the 61-year-old woman, who left her home with her daughter and granddaughter, fleeing the Russian attacks in Avdiivka. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded the country. The agency announced the milestone in Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
APTOPIX_Russia_Ukraine_War_29153 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, and European Council President, Charles Michel attend a news conference after their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_30290 In this image provided by the European Council, European Council President Charles Michel, center, looks at destroyed vehicles as he is given a tour of the region of Borodyanka, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
APTOPIX_Russia_Ukraine_War_64205 The bodies of four people who died during the Russian occupation await burial during funerals in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_40031 In this image provided by the European Council, European Council President Charles Michel, center, as he is given a tour of the region of Borodyanka, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_16866
Russia_Ukraine_War_11760 A Ukrainian soldier stands during the funeral of his father, who died due to the lack of medical care because of the Russian occupation, in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_33381 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, and European Council President Charles Michel attend a news conference after their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_37254
Russia_Ukraine_War_19033 Vova, 10, looks as the body of his mother, Maryna, is taken from the morgue before her funeral in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Vova's mother died while they sheltered in a cold basement for more than a month during the Russian military's occupation.
Russia_Ukraine_War_34693 Vladimir, 64, who left his home in Severodonetsk due to the Russian attacks, serves his lunch prepared by volunteers in a restaurant that was transformed into a shelter for those who are fleeing the war from the eastern region of the country in Dnipro, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded the country. The agency announced the milestone in Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_88237 People pay their respect during the funeral ceremony for Ukrainian serviceman Volodymyr Karas, who died during the fighting with Russian troops at Independence square in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_46327 Ukrainian residents make a table outside their houses after their building was destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Citizens of Irpin are still without electricity, water and gas after since the Russian invasion began.
APTOPIX_Russia_Ukraine_War_17432 Volodymyr Lukyanovych, 63, cooks his dinner outside his house since his building was destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Citizens of Irpin are still without electricity, water and gas after since the Russian invasion began.
Russia_Ukraine_War_44945 Volodymyr Lukyanovych, 63, cuts wood to make a fire to make his dinner outside his house, since his building was destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Citizens of Irpin are still without electricity, water and gas after since the Russian invasion began.
Russia_Ukraine_War_01160 Displaced people have lunch cooked by volunteers, at a restaurant that was transformed into a shelter for those who are fleeing the war from eastern region of the country, in Dnipro, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded the country. The agency announced the milestone in Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Russia_Ukraine_War_76577 Volodymyr Lukyanovych, 63, cooks his dinner outside his house after his building was destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Citizens of Irpin are still without electricity, water and gas after since the Russian invasion began.
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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces tightened the noose around the defenders holed up Wednesday in a mammoth steel plant that represented the last known Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol, as a fighter apparently on the inside pleaded on a video for help: “We may have only a few days or hours left.”

With the holdouts coming under punishing new bombing attacks, another attempt to evacuate civilians trapped in the pulverized port city failed because of continued fighting.

Meanwhile, the number of people fleeing the country topped 5 million, the Kremlin said it submitted a draft of its demands for ending the war, and the West raced to supply Ukraine with heavier weapons to counter the Russians’ new drive to seize the industrial east.

With global tensions running high, Russia reported the first successful test launch of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, the Sarmat. President Vladimir Putin boasted it can overcome any missile defense system and make those who threaten Russia “think twice,” and the head of the Russian state aerospace agency called the launch out of northern Russia “a present to NATO.”

The Pentagon described the test as “routine” and said it wasn’t considered a threat.

On the battlefield, Ukraine said Moscow continued to mount assaults across the east, probing for weak points in Ukrainian defensive lines. Russia said it launched hundreds of missile and air attacks on targets that included concentrations of troops and vehicles.

The Kremlin’s stated goal is the capture of the Donbas, the mostly Russian-speaking eastern region that is home to coal mines, metal plants and heavy-equipment factories. Detaching it would give Putin a badly needed victory two months into the war, after the botched attempt to storm the capital, Kyiv.

The Luhansk governor said Russian forces now control 80% of his region, which is one of two that make up the Donbas. Before Russia invaded on Feb. 24, the Kyiv government controlled 60% of the Luhansk region.

Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the Russians, after seizing the small city of Kreminna, are now threatening the cities of Rubizhne and Popasna. He urged all residents to evacuate immediately.

“The occupiers control only parts of these cities, unable to break through to the centers,” Haidai said on the messaging app Telegram.

Analysts say the offensive in the east could devolve into a war of attrition as Russia runs up against Ukraine’s most experienced, battle-hardened troops, who have fought pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas for eight years.

Russia said it presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands for ending the conflict — days after Putin said the talks were at a “dead end.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “the ball is in their court, we’re waiting for a response.” He gave no details on the draft, and it was not clear when it was sent or if it offered anything new to the Ukrainians, who presented their own demands last month.

Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy said he had not seen or heard of the proposal, though one of his top advisers said the Ukrainian side was reviewing it.

Moscow has long demanded Ukraine drop any bid to join NATO. Ukraine has said it would agree to that in return for security guarantees from a number of other countries. Other sources of tension include the status of both the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Moscow in 2014, and eastern Ukraine, where the separatists have declared independent republics recognized by Russia.

In devastated Mariupol, Ukraine said the Russians dropped heavy bombs to flatten what was left of the sprawling Azvostal steel plant, believed to be the city’s last pocket of resistance.

A few thousand Ukrainian troops, by the Russians’ estimate, remained in the plant and its labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers spread out across about 11 square kilometers (4 square miles). Zelenskyy said about 1,000 civilians were also trapped there.

A Ukrainian posted a video plea on Facebook urging world leaders to help evacuate people from the plant, saying, “We have more than 500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians with us, including women and children.”

The officer, who identified himself as Serhiy Volynskyy of the 36th Marine Brigade, said: “This may be our last appeal. We may have only a few days or hours left.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.

The Russian side issued a new ultimatum to the defenders to surrender, but the Ukrainians have ignored all previous demands.

All told, more than 100,000 people were believed trapped with little if any food, water, medicine or heat in Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of over 400,000.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the latest effort to open a safe corridor for women, children and the elderly to escape failed because the Russians did not observe a cease-fire. Many previous such agreements have fallen apart because of continued fighting.

A Zelenskyy adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Twitter that he and other Ukrainian negotiators were ready to hold talks without any conditions to save the lives of trapped Mariupol defenders and civilians. There was no immediate response from Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned of horrors yet to be revealed in Mariupol, given the death and destruction left behind in Bucha, near Kyiv, after the Russians retreated.

“We can only anticipate that when this tide also recedes from Mariupol, we’re going to see far worse, if that’s possible to imagine,” he said.

Mariupol holds strategic and symbolic value for both sides. The scale of suffering there has made it a worldwide focal point of the war. Mariupol’s fall would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, and free up Russian troops to move elsewhere in the Donbas.

As Russia continued to funnel troops and equipment into the Donbas, Western nations rushed to boost the flow of military supplies to Kyiv for this new phase of the war, which is likely to involve trench warfare, long-range artillery attacks and tank battles across relatively open terrain.

U.S. President Joe Biden was set to announce plans Thursday to send more military aid to Ukraine, according to a U.S. official.

The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Biden will detail his plans to add to the roughly $2.6 billion in military assistance the administration has already approved. Canada and the Netherlands also said they would send more heavy weaponry.

Also, a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment of the war, said the training of Ukrainian personnel on American 155 mm howitzers has begun in a European country outside Ukraine, and the first of 18 promised such weapons began arriving on the continent.

Putin, meanwhile, boasted that the Sarmat missile has “no equivalents in the world.” The Sarmat is intended to eventually replace the Soviet-built missile code-named Satan by NATO as a major component of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

It will ”make those who, in the heat of frantic, aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country think twice,” the Russian leader said.

Looking for a path to peace, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requested meetings with Putin and Zelenskyy in their capitals to discuss how to stop the fighting. The U.N. received no immediate response.

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Associated Press journalists Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine; Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine; and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other AP staff members around the world.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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