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Russia has outlined plans to seize the entire Donbas and the south of Ukraine in the second phase of its offensive to create a land corridor stretching to Moldova.

The deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, Rustam Minnekayev, said Russia planned to forge a corridor between Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014, and the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

The remaining Ukrainian fighters left in the port city of Mariupol are holed up at the vast Azovstal industrial facility which Putin has ordered to be blockaded, effectively condemning the soldiers and civilians inside to their deaths.

Mariupol sits between areas held by Russian separatists and Crimea and its capture would allow Russia to link the two areas.

It comes as Russia continues to pound the Donbas, striking 58 targets overnight, but the Kremlin is still suffering heavy blows with claims their death toll has risen to 30,000.

An armoured convoy of pro-Russian troops waving Russian flags moves towards Mariupol yesterday which Putin claims he has 'liberated'

An armoured convoy of pro-Russian troops waving Russian flags moves towards Mariupol yesterday which Putin claims he has 'liberated'

An armoured convoy of pro-Russian troops waving Russian flags moves towards Mariupol yesterday which Putin claims he has ‘liberated’

A destroyed apartment building in Borodianka on the outskirts of Kyiv is seen as Russian bombardment in Ukraine continues

A destroyed apartment building in Borodianka on the outskirts of Kyiv is seen as Russian bombardment in Ukraine continues

A destroyed apartment building in Borodianka on the outskirts of Kyiv is seen as Russian bombardment in Ukraine continues

State Emergency Service (SES) experts remove Russian bombs as they clear the area in Chernihiv after the latest strikes

State Emergency Service (SES) experts remove Russian bombs as they clear the area in Chernihiv after the latest strikes

State Emergency Service (SES) experts remove Russian bombs as they clear the area in Chernihiv after the latest strikes

A view of a Mykolaiv Regional Council building which was destroyed as a result of a shellfire yesterday as Russia continues to pound Ukraine

A view of a Mykolaiv Regional Council building which was destroyed as a result of a shellfire yesterday as Russia continues to pound Ukraine

A view of a Mykolaiv Regional Council building which was destroyed as a result of a shellfire yesterday as Russia continues to pound Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds an online meeting of Russia's Security Council in Moscow today as he continues his assault

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds an online meeting of Russia's Security Council in Moscow today as he continues his assault

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds an online meeting of Russia’s Security Council in Moscow today as he continues his assault

A pro-Russian troop stands in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol where hundreds of Ukrainians are trapped

A pro-Russian troop stands in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol where hundreds of Ukrainians are trapped

A pro-Russian troop stands in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol where hundreds of Ukrainians are trapped

Minnekayev said taking control of southern Ukraine would improve Russian access to Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway region of Transdniestria, which borders Ukraine and which Kyiv fears could be used as a launching pad for new attacks.

Kyiv earlier this month said that an airfield in the region was being prepared to receive aircraft and could be used by Moscow to fly in Ukraine-bound troops.

‘Control over the south of Ukraine is another way to Transdniestria, where there is also evidence that the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed,’ TASS quoted Minnekayev as saying at a meeting in Russia’s central Sverdlovsk region.

Ukraine’s Defence Ministry denounced the plans announced by Russia to take full control of Donbas and southern Ukraine as ‘imperialism’.

‘They stopped hiding it,’ the ministry said on Twitter. It said Russia had ‘acknowledged that the goal of the ‘second phase’ of the war is not victory over the mythical Nazis, but simply the occupation of eastern and southern Ukraine. Imperialism as it is.’

Elsewhere in Ukraine today, at least one person died and two were injured when a transport plane crashed over the centre of the country, the latest incident involving accident-prone Soviet-era aircraft.

‘An AN-26 aircraft, which according to preliminary information belonged to Ukraine, crashed today in the vicinity of Mikhailovka in the Zaporizhzhia region,’ the region’s administration wrote in a statement on social media.

Russian military vehicles move on a highway in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces near Mariupol

Russian military vehicles move on a highway in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces near Mariupol

Russian military vehicles move on a highway in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces near Mariupol

Volodymyr Zelensky said in an overnight address that Mariupol 'continues to resist' the invading forces despite Russian claims of victory

Volodymyr Zelensky said in an overnight address that Mariupol 'continues to resist' the invading forces despite Russian claims of victory

Volodymyr Zelensky said in an overnight address that Mariupol ‘continues to resist’ the invading forces despite Russian claims of victory

People walk past cars damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol

People walk past cars damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol

People walk past cars damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol

Fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, led by Russia's State Duma member Adam Delimkhanov, patrol the besieged port city

Fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, led by Russia's State Duma member Adam Delimkhanov, patrol the besieged port city

Fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, led by Russia’s State Duma member Adam Delimkhanov, patrol the besieged port city

‘The aircraft was performing a technical flight. It has been established that one person was killed and two more were injured.’

Crew numbers and the cause of the crash were being investigated, the statement added.

The Soviet-designed Antonov aircraft, still widely used in military and civilian aviation across Russia and the former USSR, crash regularly.

In February, a Russian Antonov AN-26 transport carrying military equipment came down in the southern Voronezh region near Ukraine, killing all crew members on board.

Two dozen people including military cadets were killed in September 2020, when a Ukranian AN-26 plane went down near Kharkiv in the east of the country.

In 2018, an AN-26 transport plane crashed when landing in Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Syria. All 39 servicemen on board died.

The central Zaporizhzhia administration said Friday the plane may have hit electrical wires, setting the engines on fire.

It said rescue workers were on the scene.

Overnight, Russia struck 58 military targets including sites where troops, fuel depots and military equipment were concentrated, its defence ministry said.

Service members of pro-Russian troops, including fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, stand in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works

Service members of pro-Russian troops, including fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, stand in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works

Service members of pro-Russian troops, including fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, stand in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works

Local residents stand near emergency management specialists, who transport the bodies of civilians killed in the city

Local residents stand near emergency management specialists, who transport the bodies of civilians killed in the city

Local residents stand near emergency management specialists, who transport the bodies of civilians killed in the city

A damaged Russian tank near a road in Zalisia village not far from Kyiv. Some cities and villages had recently been recaptured by the Ukrainian army from Russian forces

A damaged Russian tank near a road in Zalisia village not far from Kyiv. Some cities and villages had recently been recaptured by the Ukrainian army from Russian forces

A damaged Russian tank near a road in Zalisia village not far from Kyiv. Some cities and villages had recently been recaptured by the Ukrainian army from Russian forces

The ministry said it had also struck three targets using high-precision missiles in Ukraine, including an S-300 air defence system and a large concentration of Ukrainian troops with their equipment.

But the gains are continuing to come at a heavy price for Putin, with three more majors killed in conflict. 

Online source General SVR today claimed that Putin has been told of a total of 30,557 deaths among the armed forces and privately-hired combatants.

This included 23,655 armed forces personnel as being a figure at 6am Moscow time today.

The claim could not be verified but other estimates suggest well over 20,000.

One example of the hidden death toll is Russia’s failure to say how many perished in the sinking of the Moskva cruiser, the Black Sea Fleet flagship, after it was hit by Ukrainian missiles.

The killings highlight the appalling losses and pain suffered by Russia from the president’s military adventure.

He is believed to have lost eight generals and 35 colonels among his top brass.

Flags beside the recently buried at graveyards show those killed are among Russia’s most elite and highly-trained paratroopers and GRU military intelligence special forces.

A Ukrainian service member stands next to a damaged Russian tank T-72 BV, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Donetsk region

A Ukrainian service member stands next to a damaged Russian tank T-72 BV, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Donetsk region

A Ukrainian service member stands next to a damaged Russian tank T-72 BV, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Donetsk region

State Emergency Service (SES) experts remove Russian bombs as they clear the area as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Chernihiv

State Emergency Service (SES) experts remove Russian bombs as they clear the area as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Chernihiv

State Emergency Service (SES) experts remove Russian bombs as they clear the area as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Chernihiv

Dmitrovo-Cherkassy Cemetery in Tver region. A local journalist reported Russian military and navy flags are erected by the graves

Dmitrovo-Cherkassy Cemetery in Tver region. A local journalist reported Russian military and navy flags are erected by the graves

Dmitrovo-Cherkassy Cemetery in Tver region. A local journalist reported Russian military and navy flags are erected by the graves

Major Alexander Shepel, 35, battalion commander of the second motorised rifles, was blown up by an anti-tank mine

Major Alexander Shepel, 35, battalion commander of the second motorised rifles, was blown up by an anti-tank mine

Major Sergei Averyanov, 36, commander of an engineering battalion, was announced today by Ukraine and confirmed by the officer's relatives in Russia

Major Sergei Averyanov, 36, commander of an engineering battalion, was announced today by Ukraine and confirmed by the officer's relatives in Russia

Major Alexander Shepel (left), 35, battalion commander of the second motorised rifles, was blown up by an anti-tank mine. Major Sergei Averyanov (right), 36, commander of an engineering battalion, was announced today by Ukraine and confirmed by the officer’s relatives in Russia

GRU Spetnaz officer Major Sergey Kashanskiy, 32, from Siberia, pictured, was killed in an undisclosed operation in Ukraine.

Governor of Krasnoyarsk region Alexander Uss offered his ‘deepest condolences’ to the family.

No details were given concerning how he died.

Major Sergei Averyanov, 36, commander of an engineering battalion, was announced today by Ukraine and confirmed by the officer’s relatives in Russia.

A VW-fanatic, he had served two tours of duty in Syria before dying in Ukraine.

Major Alexander Shepel, 35, battalion commander of the second motorised rifles, was blown up by an anti-tank mine, according to reports.

A memorial to him said: ‘You are our hero, we will not forget. We will not forgive, we love, we mourn … You are forever in our hearts.’

He died in a battle in Popkova village, in Ukraine, say reports.

Putin’s decision on Thursday not to order his forces to root out Ukrainian defenders in the labyrinthine underground passageways under Azovstal steelworks is seen as a reflection that the Russian public is becoming deeply uneasy about the rising slaughter of its soldiers in Ukraine.

A number of elite paratroopers appear to be buried at a graveyard in Tver region.

There are also new graves at a burial site called Alley of the Paratroopers in Stavropol region, as a video shows.

Flags beside the recently buried at graveyards show those killed are among Russia's most elite and highly-trained paratroopers and GRU military intelligence special forces

Flags beside the recently buried at graveyards show those killed are among Russia's most elite and highly-trained paratroopers and GRU military intelligence special forces

Flags beside the recently buried at graveyards show those killed are among Russia’s most elite and highly-trained paratroopers and GRU military intelligence special forces

At least some of the fallen are GRU military intelligence special forces officers, indicated by the flag with a bat and parachute prominently displayed.

It reportedly belongs to the 10th Separate Order of Zhukov Special Purpose Brigade.

Russia has not come clean on the scale of its war losses, and has hidden the return to the motherland of coffins and funerals.

Putin also claimed yesterday it had ‘liberated’ the besieged port city as Putin savagely ordered to seal off all routes out of the plant ‘so that even a fly cannot pass through’, effectively condemning those inside to their deaths.

But today, Captain Svyatoslav Palamar from the Azov Battalion insisted: ‘I always say that as long as we are here, Mariupol remains under control of Ukraine.’

Volodymyr Zelensky echoed the remarks in an overnight address, saying Mariupol ‘continues to resist’ the invading forces.

Palamar’s comments are the first to emerge from Inside the steelworks, the last remaining bastion of resistance in the city which has been razed to the ground, since Putin claimed victory yesterday.

He described the chilling sight inside Azovstal and its labyrinthine tunnels where scores of dead civilians are trapped in bunkers and under collapsed buildings after taking refuge there from the constant shelling.

The soldier told the BBC: ‘All the buildings in the territory of Azovstal are practically destroyed. They drop heavy bombs, bunker-busting bombs which cause huge destruction. We have wounded and dead inside the bunkers. Some civilians remain trapped under the collapsed buildings.’

Palamar said the civilians are in separate basements to the fighters, each full of 80 to 100 people, as he claimed there were ‘enough to repel attacks’ stationed inside.

Some buildings inside the plant have been destroyed by shelling meaning soldiers are unable to reach the trapped civilians, with entrances blocked by huge immovable concrete slabs.

He said: ‘We keep in touch with those civilians who stay in places that we can get to. We know that there are small children there as young as three months old.’

The Azov fighter desperately appealed for safe evacuation routes out of the steelworks and urged a third country to act as a guarantor to ensure their safety after Russians repeatedly broke agreed ceasefires.

The neo-Nazi Azov battalion formed as a volunteer paramilitary militia in 2014 to fight Russians in the Donbas and has been accused of its own war crimes.

But in a last ditch battle to defend Azovstal, the Ukrainian marines joined forces with the far-right fighters. 

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin hailed the ‘liberation’ of Mariupol as a ‘success’ for Russian forces, and ordered a siege of the Azovstal plant.

‘There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities. Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly can escape,’ Putin said.

The British Ministry of Defence said today: ‘Putin’s decision to blockade the Azovstal steel plant likely indicates a desire to contain Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol and free up Russian forces to be deployed elsewhere in eastern Ukraine.’ 

There are at least 500 wounded soldiers inside the plant needing medication and surgery including amputations, while a number of elderly civilians are also in need of urgent treatment.

‘They have almost no food, water, essential medicine,’ Ukraine’s foreign ministry said. 

Zelensky added last night: ‘In the south and east of our country, the occupiers continue to do everything to have a reason to talk about at least some victories. 

Russia’s ailing command: ‘Bloated and slouching’ Putin is seen gripping a table amid cancer battle rumours as he meets ‘slurring’ defence minister Shoigu – who needs to read from notes ‘following heart attack’ 

A bloated Vladimir Putin has been seen gripping a table whilst slouching in his chair during a televised meeting with his defence minister amid rumours the Russian strongman is battling cancer.

In a rare live appearance, Putin claimed Russia had ‘liberated’ the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, as he savagely ordered Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to seal off all routes out of the Azovstal steelworks where defiant Ukrainians are holed up ‘so that even a fly cannot pass through’.

But Putin’s poor posture and his apparently bloated face and neck sparked speculation about the Russian leader’s health, which has reportedly been in decline since his invasion of Ukraine.

Video showed Putin speaking to Shoigu whilst gripping the edge of the table with his right hand – so hard that it appears white – and tapping his foot consistently.

Shoigu does not appear to have fared any better in the eight weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, with the defence minister slurring his words and reading from his notes following an apparent heart attack.

A bloated Vladimir Putin has been seen gripping a table whilst slouching in his chair during a televised meeting with his defence minister Sergei Shoigu amid rumours the Russian strongman is battling cancer. Shoigu does not appear to have fared any better in the eight weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, with the defence minister slurring his words and reading from his notes following an apparent heart attack

A bloated Vladimir Putin has been seen gripping a table whilst slouching in his chair during a televised meeting with his defence minister Sergei Shoigu amid rumours the Russian strongman is battling cancer. Shoigu does not appear to have fared any better in the eight weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, with the defence minister slurring his words and reading from his notes following an apparent heart attack

A bloated Vladimir Putin has been seen gripping a table whilst slouching in his chair during a televised meeting with his defence minister Sergei Shoigu amid rumours the Russian strongman is battling cancer. Shoigu does not appear to have fared any better in the eight weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, with the defence minister slurring his words and reading from his notes following an apparent heart attack

But Putin's poor posture and his apparently bloated face and neck sparked speculation about the Russian leader's health, which has reportedly been in decline since his invasion of Ukraine

But Putin's poor posture and his apparently bloated face and neck sparked speculation about the Russian leader's health, which has reportedly been in decline since his invasion of Ukraine

But Putin’s poor posture and his apparently bloated face and neck sparked speculation about the Russian leader’s health, which has reportedly been in decline since his invasion of Ukraine

Vladimir Putin’s five medically-related disappearances  

November 2012: Business trips and long-distance flights of the president are canceled, some of Putin’s meetings shown by the Kremlin turn out to be ‘canned food’

March 5 – 15, 2015: Putin does not appear in public, all meetings are ‘canned’ – in other words pre-recorded events were shown with the pretence they were in real time

August 9-16, 2017: The President, with journalists, visits Abkhazia and Sochi, and then for a week the Kremlin publishes only ‘canned food’

February 2018: In the midst of an election campaign, the president cancels public events. Peskov admits that the head of state ‘had a cold’

September 13-29, 2021: Putin goes into ‘self-isolation’, all events are held via video link

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Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist and former adviser to Ukraine and Russia, said the video showed both Putin and Shoigu ‘depressed and seemingly in bad health’. 

‘Shoigu has to read his comments to Putin and slurs badly, suggesting that the rumours of his heart attack are likely. He sits badly. Poor performance.’

Professor Erik Bucy, a body language expert from Texas Tech University, told The Sun Online: ‘It’s an astonishingly weakened Putin compared to the man we observed even a few years ago.

‘An able-bodied president would not need to keep himself propped up with a hand held out for leverage and would not be concerned about keeping both feet planted on the ground.’

‘This is not a portrait of a healthy Putin but one appearing increasingly feeble and barely able to hold himself upright at a small conference table,’ Bucy added.

Putin’s bloated face and neck has sparked claims he is undergoing steroid treatment, whilst reports have suggested Putin is ‘constantly’ accompanied by a doctor specialising in thyroid cancer.

Surgeon Yevgeny Selivanov, of Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital, has flown to the Russian leader no less than 35 times in Black Sea resort Sochi, his favourite place of residence.

The respected doctor’s thesis – showing his area of medical expertise – was entitled: ‘Peculiarities of diagnostics and surgical treatment of elderly and senile patients with thyroid cancer’.

'Shoigu has to read his comments to Putin and slurs badly, suggesting that the rumours of his heart attack are likely. He sits badly. Poor performance,' Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist and former adviser to Ukraine and Russia, said

'Shoigu has to read his comments to Putin and slurs badly, suggesting that the rumours of his heart attack are likely. He sits badly. Poor performance,' Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist and former adviser to Ukraine and Russia, said

‘Shoigu has to read his comments to Putin and slurs badly, suggesting that the rumours of his heart attack are likely. He sits badly. Poor performance,’ Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist and former adviser to Ukraine and Russia, said

Service members of pro-Russian troops, including fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, stand in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works

Service members of pro-Russian troops, including fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, stand in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works

Service members of pro-Russian troops, including fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, stand in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works

Meanwhile Shoigu, who is in charge of the bloody invasion of Ukraine, has been noticeably absent from public view amid reports the defence minister and Putin’s relationship has become strained after Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has led to more than 20,000 Russian troops being killed.

Last week, a Russian-Israeli businessman claimed Shoigu suffered a heart attack, which he suspects was caused by foul play.

Leonid Nevzlin claimed Shoigu had been in intensive car after suffering ‘a massive heart attack’ which ‘could not have occurred due to natural causes’, suggesting Putin’s longtime ally may have been the subject of an assassination attempt ordered by his boss.

Some have claimed Shoigu and Putin’s poor health is due to the faltering invasion of Ukraine.

During the televised meeting, Putin hailed the ‘liberation’ of Mariupol as a ‘success’ for Russian forces, and ordered a siege of the Azovstal plant.

‘There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities. Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly can escape,’ Putin said.

The British Ministry of Defence said today: ‘Putin’s decision to blockade the Azovstal steel plant likely indicates a desire to contain Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol and free up Russian forces to be deployed elsewhere in eastern Ukraine.’ 

There are at least 500 wounded soldiers inside the plant needing medication and surgery including amputations, while a number of elderly civilians are also in need of urgent treatment.

‘They have almost no food, water, essential medicine,’ Ukraine’s foreign ministry said

A pro-Russian troop stands in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol where hundreds of Ukrainians are trapped

A pro-Russian troop stands in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol where hundreds of Ukrainians are trapped

A pro-Russian troop stands in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol where hundreds of Ukrainians are trapped

An armoured convoy of pro-Russian troops waving Russian flags moves towards Mariupol yesterday which Putin claims he has 'liberated'

An armoured convoy of pro-Russian troops waving Russian flags moves towards Mariupol yesterday which Putin claims he has 'liberated'

An armoured convoy of pro-Russian troops waving Russian flags moves towards Mariupol yesterday which Putin claims he has ‘liberated’

Defiant Ukrainians holed up inside the steelworks are still refusing to surrender Mariupol despite being surrounded by Russian forces.

Today, Captain Svyatoslav Palamar from the Azov Battalion insisted: ‘I always say that as long as we are here, Mariupol remains under control of Ukraine.’

Volodymyr Zelensky echoed the remarks in an overnight address, saying Mariupol ‘continues to resist’ the invading forces.

Palamar’s comments are the first to emerge from inside the steelworks, the last remaining bastion of resistance in the city which has been razed to the ground, since Putin claimed victory yesterday.

He described the chilling sight inside Azovstal and its labyrinthine tunnels where scores of dead civilians are trapped in bunkers and under collapsed buildings after taking refuge there from the constant shelling.

The soldier told the BBC: ‘All the buildings in the territory of Azovstal are practically destroyed. They drop heavy bombs, bunker-busting bombs which cause huge destruction. We have wounded and dead inside the bunkers. Some civilians remain trapped under the collapsed buildings.’

Source: DailyMail

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