Russia steps up Ukraine assaults ahead of Victory Day parades

Ukrainian soldiers have launched a counter-offensive against Russian invasion forces in the east of the country

Ukraine said  civilians had been evacuated from a besieged Mariupol steel plant on Saturday as Russian forces unleashed new bombardments across the country ahead of Victory Day festivities in Moscow.

The Azovstal steel mill is the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the devastated port city and its fate has taken on a symbolic value in the broader battle since Russia’s invasion.

Fighting continues on many fronts, and Ukraine’s defence ministry said it had destroyed another Russian vessel — a Serna-class landing craft — in the Black Sea.

Ukraine’s defence ministry had earlier said Russian forces had resumed their assault on the Azovstal site, despite talk of a truce to allow trapped civilians to flee.

According to Russia’s defence ministry, 77 aircraft will conduct a flypast, including the rarely-seen Il-80 Doomsday plane that can withstand a nuclear attack. 

The Russian campaign has run into tough resistance — and provoked Kyiv’s western allies into slapping sanctions on the Russian economy and Putin’s inner circle.

The Ukrainian rescue service said a missile hit a technical college in Kostiantynivka, in the eastern region of Donetsk, causing a fire and at least two deaths. 

Strikes were also reported in the north of Ukraine near the city of Kharkiv and in the southern city of Mikolaiv, a key Russian target.

– Bridges down –

According to British intelligence, Ukrainian forces equipped with high-end weaponry by the western allies, have been able to destroy at least one of Russia’s most advanced tanks, the T-90M.

“It will take considerable time and expense for Russia to reconstitute its armed forces following this conflict,” it said, warning sanctions on advanced components would make it harder for Russia to re-arm.

On Friday, US President Joe Biden announced another package of military assistance worth $150 million, including radars for detecting the source of enemy artillery fire.

Biden had urged Congress to approve a further $33 billion package, including $20 billion in military aid, “to strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”

And Biden’s wife, US First lady Jill Biden, was in Romania meeting Ukrainian refugees. 

“We stand with you, I hope you know that.”

– Azovstal evacuation –

About 200 civilians, including children, had been thought to be trapped in the tunnels and bunkers beneath Azovstal, along with Ukrainian soldiers making their last stand.

Ukraine’s Azov battalion, leading the defence at Azovstal, said one Ukrainian fighter had been killed and six wounded when Russian forces opened fire during an attempt to evacuate people by car.

Taking full control of Mariupol would allow Moscow to create a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and separatist regions run by Russian puppets in the east.

“Russia has come back here forever,” said Denis Pushilin, head of a pro-Russian breakaway region in Donetsk.

Kherson in the south remains the only significant city Russia has managed to capture since the war began.

“There should be no doubt about this. There will be no return to the past,” Andrey Turchak said.

Originally published as Russia steps up Ukraine assaults ahead of Victory Day parades

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