Russia is fighting for control of the Ukrainian stronghold of Mariupol

  • Russian troops enter Azovstal plant, Ukraine says
  • Mariupol evacuees express fear for those still trapped inside
  • EU prepares toughest sanctions yet against Russia

KYIV/BRUSSELS, May 4 (Reuters) – Russian forces battled for control of the last stronghold in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said, and the European Union proposed tough new sanctions against Moscow , including a gradual oil embargo.

Mariupol authorities say some 200 civilians, along with Ukrainian fighters, are still locked in a vast network of underground bunkers at the Azovstal steelworks, which has come under repeated shelling due to the encirclement of Russian troops.

Civilians who were evacuated to safety this week under a UN-led deal have expressed fear for those still trapped inside.

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“God forbid any more shells should hit near the bunkers where the civilians are,” said evacuee Tetyana Trotsak, who was among dozens of Ukrainians who reached the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday. Read more

After failing to capture the capital kyiv in the first weeks of an assault that killed thousands and destroyed cities, Russia has stepped up attacks on southern and eastern Ukraine, where the port of the Sea of ​​Azov, Mariupol, is its main target.

Russia declared victory over Mariupol on April 21 after weeks of siege and bombardment. The city is key to Moscow’s efforts to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea – vital for grain and metal exports – and connect Russian-held territory to the south and east.

Ukrainian fighters inside Azovstal are fighting “difficult and bloody battles” against Russian troops, said Denis Prokopenko, commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment. A Ukrainian parliamentarian said Russian forces were inside the plant. Read more

The Russian military said it would suspend military activity in Azovstal for Thursday and the next two days to allow civilians to evacuate.

Humanitarian corridors will be opened “for the evacuation of civilians (workers, women and children) whose presence in the underground facilities of the factory (has) been announced by the authorities of kyiv”, indicated the Russian army.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to help save more people from the factory.

“The lives of the people who remain there are in danger. Everyone is important to us. We ask for your help to save them,” Zelenskiy said.

More than 300 civilians were evacuated from Mariupol and other parts of southern Ukraine in a joint UN-Red Cross operation that ended on Wednesday, the humanitarian coordinator said. for Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani.

“While this second evacuation of civilians from areas of Mariupol and beyond is important, much more needs to be done to ensure that all civilians caught up in the fighting can leave, in any direction they wish,” said Lubrani.

Putting pressure on Russia’s already struggling $1.8 trillion economy, Brussels has proposed phasing out imports of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of this year.

“(President Vladimir) Putin must pay a price, a high price, for his brutal aggression,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said, applauding EU lawmakers in Strasbourg. Read more

The plan, if accepted by the 27 EU governments, would follow US and UK oil bans and be a turning point for the world’s largest trading bloc, which remains dependent on Russian energy and needs to find supplies alternatives.

US President Joe Biden has said he will speak to other Group of Seven leaders this week about possible new moves against Moscow. “We are always open to additional sanctions,” Biden told reporters in Washington. Read more

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the news from the EU, but stressed the urgency of action to starve the Russian war machine.

“My position is simple: every euro paid to Russia for gas, oil or other goods ends up as ammunition in Ukraine to kill my compatriots,” he told Austrian television channel Puls 4 in an interview.

The Kremlin said Russia was evaluating various responses to the EU plan, adding that the measures would be costly for European citizens.

A source said EU envoys could reach an agreement on Thursday or later this week on the plan, which also targets Russia’s top bank, its broadcasters and hundreds of people.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu renewed a warning that Moscow would seek to strike at US and NATO arms supplies to Ukraine.

His ministry said Russian forces had disabled six railway stations used to deliver Western weapons to eastern Ukraine. He later said he hit 77 military targets throughout the day, including ammunition dumps and artillery.

Ukrainian authorities said Russian strategic bombers fired 18 rockets “with the aim of damaging our country’s transport infrastructure” and confirmed an attack on railways.

Announcing surprise military drills, the Belarusian Defense Ministry said they posed no threat to neighbors, but the Ukrainian border service said it could not rule out Belarusian forces joining the assault on Russia.

“Therefore, we are ready,” spokesman Andriy Demchenko said.

Some Russian forces entered Ukraine via Belarus when the invasion began on February 24, but so far no Belarusian troops have been involved in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine. and defend its Russian-speaking population against the fascists.

kyiv and its Western supporters say Moscow’s claim of fascism is a pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression that has driven more than 5 million Ukrainians to flee abroad.

The Kremlin on Wednesday dismissed rumors that Putin would officially declare war on Ukraine and decree a national mobilization on May 9, when Russia will commemorate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Putin is due to deliver a speech and oversee a military parade on May 9 in Moscow’s Red Square.

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Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth in kyiv, Alessandra Prentice in Zaporizhzhia; Written by Gareth Jones, Tomasz Janowski and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Frank Jack Daniel and Rosalba O’Brien

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