Putin IGNORES calls for Easter truce with new airstrikes on Mariupol

Putin IGNORES calls for Easter truce by stepping up airstrikes on besieged Mariupol: Rockets hammer steel plant in strategic Black Sea port while Donbas faces fresh attacks as Russians try to steal victory in the east

  • The war in Ukraine entered its third month today as Russia continues to batter the port city of Mariupol
  • Putin’s forces today called in more airstrikes on the Azovstal steel plant – the last remaining Ukrainian holdout
  • The move ignored Ukrainian officials’ calls for an ‘Easter truce’ to allow civilians trapped there to evacuate
  • Elsewhere, Russia intensified attacks in Popasna and Sieverodonetsk in Luhansk, and Kurakhiv in Donetsk
  • Putin’s forces also deployed mine-clearing vehicles to destroy Ukrainian armed forces holdouts in Rubizhne
  • The attacks come as Ukrainians and Russians alike celebrate Orthodox Easter, two months since the war began 

The war in Ukraine entered its third month today as Russia continued to batter the southern port city of Mariupol and launched fresh attacks throughout the Donbas as Ukrainians and Russians alike celebrated Orthodox Easter.

Putin’s forces today called in more airstrikes on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol to try to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops holding out in the strategic port, according to Ukrainian Armed Forces spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun.

‘The place where our civilians and military are located is shelled with heavy air bombs and artillery,’ senior Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter today, calling for ‘a real Easter truce in Mariupol’. 

Russia has been trying to take the city for nearly two months, and the port on the Sea of Azov has seen some of the war’s worst deprivations. 

Its capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014.

Some 2,000 troops have been fighting tenaciously to hold on to the steel plant – the last remaining Ukrainian outpost in the city – which also has civilians taking refuge in its labyrinthine tunnel system.

Mariupol has been blockaded for most of the war, and Ukrainian officials have said they expect to find thousands of dead civilians and evidence of war crimes there when the fighting ends, as images emerged earlier this week of mass grave sites on the outskirts of the city. 

In the last day, Russia also pressed its attacks elsewhere in the eastern Donbas region where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war as Putin attempts to gain full control over Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.

Russia has been trying to take Mariupol for nearly two months, and the city on the Sea of Azov has seen some of the war’s worst deprivations – large residential areas have endured constant bombardments

An aerial view shows damaged buildings amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, in Mariupol, Ukraine in this handout picture taken with a drone released April 24, 2022

A view of the destruction in Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol where the Russian Army has taken control, on April 22, 2022

Rescue teams and firefighters work to evacuate civilians from a destroyed building in Mariupol

The Ukrainian army said Russian forces ‘continued to carry out air strikes and attempted assaults in the area of the port and the Azovstal plant’ 

Local civilians gather to get humanitarian aid distributed by Donetsk People Republic Emergency Situations Ministry in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Saturday, April 23, 2022

Putin’s forces today called in more airstrikes on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol (pictured) to try to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops holding out in the strategic port, according to Ukrainian Armed Forces spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun

A part of a destroyed tank and a burned vehicle sit in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Saturday, April 23, 2022

Shtupun said Russian forces intensified their assault operations toward the cities of Popasna and Sieverodonetsk in Luhansk, and Kurakhiv in Donetsk. 

The governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said two children were killed by shelling in his area today, while Luhansk regional Gov. Serhiy Haidai that eight people were killed and two others were wounded in a Russian barrage on Saturday.

Fresh video footage has also emerged from the city of Rubizhne in Luhansk of a Russian mine-clearing weapon destroying a building thought to be a Ukrainian army stronghold.

The UR-77 ‘Meteorite’ is a Soviet-era vehicle which sets off a charge designed to cause a shockwave destroying or disabling mines for up to 90 metres – but the vehicle has been deployed in combat as an anti-personnel weapon.

The Kremlin has instructed its forces to conduct further air and missile strikes on targets west of the Donbas, despite refocusing the bulk of its assault in the east of Ukraine and pulling back troops from key areas in the north around Kyiv, as well as the south of the country. 

Russia said on Sunday its missiles hit several military targets West of the Donbas, including a facility in the Dnipropetrovsk region it said was producing explosives for the Ukrainian army.  

At least one person was killed by a Russian missile in the strike on Dnipro, according to regional Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko.

Elsewhere, a Ukrainian mother and her three-month-old baby were among at least eight killed when a Russian missile hit a residential tower block in the southern city of Odesa.

Valeria Hlodan, 27, and her baby daughter Kira were in their apartment at the time of the strike. Ms Hlodan’s mother – who was originally from Russia – was also killed. 

Video footage emerged yesterday showing the attack in which a huge ball of fire and smoke erupted from the building as it was struck by a flying object.  

At least 18 people are thought to have been injured in the attack besides the eight killed.

Moscow claimed the missiles targeting Odesa destroyed a logistics terminal ‘containing weapons supplied by the United States and European states’. 

Thousands of Ukrainians have fled to Odesa since the start of the war, as there had previously been only a handful of attacks on the city.

In recent days, the local authorities had begun dismantling anti-tank barriers and some checkpoints in the city centre amid Russia’s focus on the Donbas, but the attack raised fears the Kremlin’s forces could launch more aerial bombardments on the southern port city like in Mariupol.

Fresh video footage has also emerged from the city of Rubizhne in Luhansk of a Russian mine-clearing weapon destroying a building thought to be a Ukrainian army stronghold

The UR-77 ‘Meteorite’ is a Soviet-era vehicle which sets off a charge designed to cause a shockwave destroying or disabling mines for up to 90 metres – but the vehicle has been deployed in combat as an anti-personnel weapon

A local resident stands next to debris of an open market destroyed by a military strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region

Local resident Viacheslav walks on debris of a residential building damaged by a military strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Sievierodonetsk

Ukrainian servicemen take their position in a zone between Luhansk and Donetsk areas, Ukraine, 18 April 2022, amid increasing Russian troops activity

Multiple videos from Odesa yesterday showed the missile strike, with a huge ball of fire and smoke erupting from the building. At least eight people are believed to have been killed, and a further 18 injured

Valeria Hlodan (pictured), 27, and her baby daughter Kira were killed when a missile struck an apartment block in Odesa yesterday. Ms Hlodan’s mother – who was originally from Russia – was also killed

Rescuers work to remove debris from a building that was hit in a military strike, amid Russia’s invasion, in Odesa, Ukraine, April 24, 2022

Local authorities in Odesa had begun dismantling anti-tank barriers and some checkpoints in the city centre amid Russia’s focus on the Donbas, but the attack raised fears the Kremlin’s forces could launch more aerial bombardments on the southern port city like in Mariupol

Russia has pulled back forces from Kyiv and the north of the country to feed into the Donbas offensive, but the British Ministry of Defense said this morning that Ukrainian forces had successfully repelled the invaders’ assaults throughout the Donbas thus far.

‘Despite Russia making some territorial gains, Ukrainian resistance has been strong across all axes and inflicted significant cost on Russian forces,’ the ministry said in an intelligence update.

‘Poor Russian morale and limited time to reconstitute, re-equip and reorganize forces from prior offensives are likely hindering Russian combat effectiveness,’ it said.

The MoD statement came as the latest statistics, published by the Ukrainian Land Forces this morning, suggested  21,800 Russian fighters have been killed amid bitter resistance from Ukraine’s armed forces and territorial defence units – though this figure could not be verified.

The land forces also claim to have dealt massive damage to Russia’s military equipment and machinery – a total of 873 tanks are said to have been destroyed, along with 2238 armoured vehicles, 179 planes, 154 helicopters and 408 artillery systems.

Ukraine said its forces repulsed 12 attacks on Donetsk and Luhansk on Saturday, destroying four tanks, 15 armoured equipment units and five artillery systems. 

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today, two months on from the start of the war. 

The Ukrainian leader did not give specifics on the topics set to be discussed, but told reporters he expected the Americans to come bringing ‘not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons.’

The visit represents the first to Ukraine’s capital by high-level U.S. officials since the invasion began Feb. 24 – Zelensky’s last face-to-face meeting with a U.S. leader was Feb. 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris.

The meeting was set to take place as Ukrainians and Russians observed Orthodox Easter, an occasion Zelensky highlighted the allegorical significance of to a nation wracked by nearly two months of war.

‘The great holiday today gives us great hope and unwavering faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will surely win!’ he said, speaking Sunday from the ancient St. Sophia Cathedral.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today. The Ukrainian leader did not give specifics on the topics set to be discussed, but told reporters he expected the Americans to come bringing ‘not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons’

Worshippers light candles at the Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral during Orthodox Eastern celebrations in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 24, 2022

‘We are all convinced that we will not be destroyed by any horde or wickedness,’ Zelenskiy added, praying God would ‘give endurance to those who, unfortunately, would not see the return of their child from the front.’ 

In attacks on the eve of Orthodox Easter, Russian forces pounded cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine. A 3-month-old baby was among eight people killed when Russia fired cruise missiles at the Black Sea port city of Odesa, officials said. Zelensky said 18 more were wounded.

‘The war started when this baby was one month old. Can you imagine what is happening?’ Zelensky said. ‘They are just bastards… I don´t have any other words for it, just bastards.’

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide, called for humanitarian corridors in Mariupol and other areas of Ukraine, where he said ‘an indescribable human tragedy is unfolding’. 

The Ukrainian military said Saturday it destroyed a Russian command post in Kherson, a southern city that fell to Russian forces early in the war.

The command post was hit on Friday, killing two generals and critically wounding another, the Ukrainian military intelligence agency said in a statement. The Russian military did not comment on the claim, which could not be confirmed.

If true, at least nine Russian generals have been killed since the start of the invasion, according to Ukrainian reports.

On Saturday the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard, which has members holed up in the Mariupol steel plant, released a video of around two dozen women and children sheltering there. 

Its contents could not be independently verified, but if authentic, it would be the first video testimony of what life has been like for civilians trapped underground there.

The video shows soldiers giving sweets to children who respond with fist-bumps.

One young girl said she and her relatives had ‘seen neither the sky nor the sun’ since they left home on February 27, while her mother said:

More than 100,000 people – down from a prewar population of about 430,000 – are believed to remain in Mariupol with scant food, water or heat. Ukrainian authorities estimate that over 20,000 civilians have been killed in the city.

Meanwhile, yet another attempt to evacuate women, children and older adults from Mariupol failed Saturday. 

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, said Russian forces did not allow Ukrainian-organized buses to take residents to Zaporizhzhia, 140 miles to the northwest.

Ukraine has accused Russia of repeatedly breaking previously agreed temporary ceasefires, designed to allow civilians to flee Mariupol via ‘humanitarian corridors’.

Ukraine war timeline: Putin’s invasion enters its third month

Russia heads into the third month of its invasion of Ukraine on Sunday with no end in sight to fighting that has killed thousands, uprooted millions and reduced cities to rubble.

In the face of mounting sanctions and fierce Ukrainian resistance bolstered by Western arms, Russia has kept up its long-distance bombardment and opened up a new offensive in the east.

Some key events so far:

February 24: Russia invades Ukraine from three fronts in the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two. Tens of thousands flee. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is launching a ‘special military operation’ to demilitarise and ‘denazify’ Ukraine. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweets: ‘Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself.’ 

February 25: Ukrainian forces battle Russian invaders in the north, east and south. Artillery pounds Kyiv and its suburbs and authorities tell residents to prepare Molotov cocktails to defend the capital. 

February 26: A U.S. defence official says Ukraine’s forces are putting up ‘determined resistance’. 

February 28: The first talks between the two sides make no breakthrough. 

March 1: Russia hits a TV tower in Kyiv and intensifies bombardment of Kharkiv in the northeast and other cities, in what is seen as a shift in tactics as Moscow’s hopes of a quick charge on the capital fade.

A U.S. official says a miles-long Russian armoured column bearing down on Kyiv has not made any advances in the past 24 hours, bogged down by logistical problems.

March 2: Russian forces bombard the southern port of Mariupol for 14 hours and stop civilians leaving, its mayor says – the start of Moscow’s blockade of the city. Russia denies targeting civilians.

Russian troops reach the centre of the Black Sea port of Kherson and claim their first capture of a large urban centre. 

March 3: Russia and Ukraine agree to set up humanitarian corridors for fleeing civilians. A cargo ship sinks near a Ukrainian port hours after another is hit by a blast at another port.

A million people have fled Ukraine, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) says.

March 4: Russian forces seize Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s biggest. NATO rejects Ukraine’s appeal for no-fly zones, saying it would escalate the conflict.

March 6: ‘Rivers of blood and tears are flowing in Ukraine,’ Pope Francis tells crowds in St. Peter’s Square. ‘This is not just a military operation, but a war, which sows death, destruction, and misery.’

March 8: Civilians flee the besieged city of Sumy in the first successful humanitarian corridor. Two million have now fled Ukraine, the UNHCR says. 

March 9: Ukraine accuses Russia of bombing a maternity hospital in Mariupol, burying people in rubble. Russia later says the hospital was no longer functioning and had been occupied by Ukrainian fighters.

March 13: Russia extends its war deep into western Ukraine, firing missiles at a base in Yavoriv close to the border with NATO member Poland. The attack kills 35 people and wounds 134, a local official says.

March 14: Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova bursts into a state TV studio during a live news bulletin, with a banner reading: ‘NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.’

March 16: Ukraine accuses Russia of bombing a theatre in Mariupol where hundreds of civilians are sheltering. Moscow denies it.

March 25: Moscow signals it is scaling back its ambitions and will focus on territory claimed by Russian-backed separatists in the east, as Ukrainian forces go on the offensive to recapture towns outside Kyiv.

March 29: Ukraine proposes adopting a neutral status during talks in Istanbul.

March 30: More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine, the UNHCR says.

April 1: Ukraine recaptures more territory around Kyiv from Russian soldiers who leave shattered villages and abandoned tanks as they move away from the capital.

April 3/4: Ukraine accuses Russia of war crimes after a mass grave and bodies of people shot at close range are found in the recaptured town of Bucha. The Kremlin denies responsibility and says images of bodies were staged.

April 8: Ukraine and its allies blame Russia for a missile attack on a train station in Kramatorsk that killed at least 52 people trying to flee the looming eastern offensive. Russia denies responsibility.

April 14: Russia’s lead warship in the Black Sea, the Moskva, sinks after an explosion and fire that Ukraine says was caused by a missile strike. Russia says the ship sank after an ammunition explosion. Washington believes the warship was hit by two Ukrainian missiles.

April 18: Russia launches its assault on east Ukraine, unleashing thousands of troops in what Ukraine described as the Battle of the Donbas, a campaign to seize two provinces and salvage a battlefield victory.

April 20: More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine, the UNHCR says.

April 21: Putin declares the southeastern port of Mariupol ‘liberated’ after nearly two months of siege, despite leaving hundreds of defenders holding out inside a giant steel works.

April 22: A Russian general says Moscow wants to take full control of southern and eastern Ukraine. 

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