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Heavy fighting has raged at the shattered steel plant in Mariupol as Russian forces attempt to finish off the city’s last-ditch defenders and complete the capture of the strategically vital port.

That is the biggest patriotic holiday on the Russian calendar, marking the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany.

Smoke rises from the Metallurgical Combine Azovstal in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, May 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov) (AP)

Some 2000 Ukrainian fighters, by the Russians’ estimate in recent weeks, were holed up in the tunnels and bunkers under the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, the last pocket of resistance in a city largely reduced to rubble over the past two months. A few hundred civilians were also believed trapped there.

Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, who as deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment led defenders inside the mill, told Ukraine’s Channel 24 that Russian troops were inside the plant for a third day and were meeting fierce resistance.

“Heavy fighting is underway,” Palamar said.

In a video posted online late on Wednesday, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Ministry, said the Russians managed to get inside with the help of an electrician who knew the layout.

“He showed them the underground tunnels which are leading to the factory,” Gerashchenko said.

“Yesterday, the Russians started storming these tunnels, using the information they received from the betrayer.”

The Kremlin denied its troops were storming the plant.

Mariupol’s fall would be a major success for Moscow, depriving Ukraine of a vital port, allowing Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and freeing up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that the Kremlin says is now its chief objective.

“Wounded soldiers are dying in agony due to the lack of proper treatment,” he said via video.

The Kremlin has demanded the fighters surrender. They have refused. Russia has also accused them of preventing the civilians from leaving.

Meanwhile, 10 weeks into the devastating war, Ukraine’s military claimed it recaptured some areas in the south and repelled other attacks in the east, further frustrating Putin’s ambitions after his abortive attempt to seize Kyiv.

Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting village by village, as Moscow struggles to gain momentum in the Donbas.

Some analysts have suggested Putin may use Victory Day to expand what he calls the “special military operation” and declare all-out war.

That would allow the Russian leader to introduce martial law and mobilise reservists to make up for significant troop losses. The Kremlin has dismissed such speculation.

Natalia Pototska, 43, cries as her grandson Matviy looks on in a car in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. (AP)

Ahead of Victory Day, the south-eastern city of Zaporizhzhia, a key transit point for evacuees from Mariupol, announced a curfew from Sunday evening through Tuesday morning. Over the course of the war, similar long curfews have been put in place in other Ukrainian cities for fear of attacks.

The mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk urged residents to leave for the countryside over the long holiday weekend and warned them not to gather in public places.

In other developments, Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, defended Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in an interview with The Associated Press but said he didn’t expect the conflict to “drag on this way”.

Lukashenko, whose country was used by the Russians as a launch pad for the invasion, said Moscow had to act because Kyiv was “provoking” Russia.

But in the interview, in which he seemed to direct his comments to the West, he created some distance between himself and the Kremlin, repeatedly calling for an end to the conflict and referring to it as a “war” — a term Moscow refuses to use.

Relatives react after arriving from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol at a centre for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. (AP)

Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000, has come to symbolise the misery inflicted by the war. The siege of the city has trapped perhaps 100,000 civilians with little food, water, medicine or heat.

As the battle raged there, Russian forces shelled elsewhere in the Donbas and kept up their bombardment of railroad stations and other supply-line targets across the country to try to disrupt the supply of Western arms, which have been critical to Ukraine’s defense.

Ukrainian forces said they made some gains on the border of the southern regions of Kherson and Mykolaiv and repelled 11 Russian attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that make up the Donbas.

Five people were killed and at least 25 wounded in shelling of cities in the Donbas over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said. The attacks damaged houses and a school.

Emergency personnel work at the site of the regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a deadly Russian attack.
Emergency personnel work at the site of the regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a deadly Russian attack in March. (AP)

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Ukrainian forces “have largely stalled Russian advances in eastern Ukraine”, and intensified Russian airstrikes on transportation infrastructure in the western part of the country have failed to stop Western aid shipments to Ukraine.

With the challenge of mine-clearing and rebuilding after the war in mind, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the launch of a global fundraising platform called United24.

At the same time, Poland hosted an international donor conference that raised US$6.5 billion ($9.2 billion) in humanitarian aid.

The gathering was attended by prime ministers and ambassadors from many European countries, as well as representatives of nations farther afield and some businesses.

In addition, a Ukrainian cabinet body began to develop proposals for a comprehensive post-war reconstruction plan, while Zelenskyy also urged Western allies to put forward a program similar to the post-World War II Marshall Plan plan to help Ukraine rebuild.

Ukrainian apartment block turned into giant doll’s house by Russian bombs

Belarus announced the start of military exercises on Wednesday, stirring fears that the Russian ally might jump into the war.

Britain’s Defence Ministry said it does not believe the drills pose any immediate threat to Ukraine but that they could be used to tie down Ukrainian forces in the north and prevent them from joining the battle for the Donbas.

Source: 9News

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