Russians are ‘KICKED OUT’ of Azovstal steel works as fighting enters third day – but Ukrainian commander says his men are ‘dying in agony’ and pleads for civilians to be allowed out

  • Heavy fighting was still underway at the Azovstal steel factory today, Ukrainian deputy commander said 
  • Russians are trying to capture the complex for the third straight day and failed to observe a ceasefire, he said
  • But Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to President Zelensky, said Russian forces had been kicked out of the plant 
  • Commander said men are dying in agony and asked Russian to stop attack so wounded and civilians can leave

Heavy fighting was raging in the heart of Mariupol for a third straight day today as a top Ukrainian official said Russian troops had been kicked out of the Azovstal steel works but clashes continued nearby.

Video which seemed to have been taken in the early hours of Thursday showed multiple artillery rounds lighting up the dawn sky as they slammed into the industrial complex, just hours before Russia had pledged that a ceasefire would come into effect so civilians could evacuate.

But that ceasefire never materialised, with Captain Sviatoslav Palamar – deputy commander of the hero Ukrainian forces holed up inside the plant – saying that ‘fierce bloody combat is ongoing’ in an afternoon update posted to the Azov battalion’s social media channels.

Palamar said Russian forces are still trying to seize control of the plant and his men are dying in agony because of a lack of medical supplies. He begged the Russians to stop their attacks so the wounded and civilians trapped inside can be evacuated, and asked world leaders to pressure the Kremlin into compliance.

Addressing the international community, Palamar denounced the Russians for ‘refusing to observe any ethical norms and destroying people before the eyes of the world.’

‘It’s been the third day that the enemy has broken through to the territory of Azovstal,’ he said. ‘The defenders of the city (Mariupol) have been fighting alone for 71 days with the overwhelming forces of the enemy and show such endurance and heroism that the country must know what it means to be loyal to the motherland.’

Meanwhile Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, told Ukrainian television that ‘Russian troops entered the territory of Azovstal but were kicked out by our defenders’ – though admitted that heavy fighting is still going on around the plant.

Artillery strikes light up the dawn sky over the Azovstal steel works as Russia renews its efforts to secure the plant, violating a pledge of ceasefire made by Moscow’s own generals so civilians could evacuate

Ukrainian troops defending the plant said men are dying in agony due to a lack of medical supplies, and begged for a halt to the fighting so the wounded and civilians could be evacuated

A tank driven by troops of Russian proxy Donetsk People’s Republic rolls into Mariupol, after much of the city was captured

A woman walks past tanks belonging to the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic – a Russian-backed proxy group – parked amid the ruins of the city of Mariupol

Tanks of Donetsk People’s Republic militia stand next to a damaged apartment building in Mariupol

Russia denies any assault is taking place after Putin publicly gave an order to hold back in order to preserve the lives of his troops. But suspicion is growing that, in private, he has ordered his generals to seize the plant in time for Victory Day celebrations on Monday – which he is likely to use to drum up support for the war.

The annual celebration marks the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Soviets and has been turned into a tub-thumping display of patriotism and power under Putin. Seizing Mariupol, and killing the last Ukrainian defenders, would allow him to claim some kind of success in what has so-far been a failed invasion of Ukraine.

Rumours are also swirling that Putin could use the celebrations to escalate, officially declaring the invasion a war so he can carry out a general mobilisation and commit more men to the fight.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, denied those rumours on Wednesday – calling them ‘nonsense’ – but it will do little to quell the murmuring as Peskov also denied Russia was about to attack Ukraine earlier this year.

Hundreds of miles north of Mariupol, to the east of Kharkiv, Ukraine appeared to have launched a major counter-attack on Thursday – threatening to cut supply lines to Russian forces massed in Donbas.

Valery Zaluzhny, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, posted on his Telegram channel that his forces are concentrating on ‘conter-attacks on Kharkiv and Izyum directions’ – without giving details.

It was unclear whether he was referring to attacks that have taken place in recent days which saw Ukraine push out around 30 miles to the east of the city, or whether fresh attacks are now underway.

If fresh attacks are taking place, it could threaten to cut the sole highway running from Belgorod – a major Russian supply hub – to Izyum, where the bulk of its forces fighting in Donbas are concentrated. The highway is around 15 miles from the last known Ukrainian positions.

In other developments, Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko – a close ally of Putin who allowed his territory to be used to stage the attack on Kyiv – today admitted the invasion wasn’t going to plan, by saying he never expected it to ‘drag on this way.’

Lukashenko said Moscow was forced into attacking because Kyiv was ‘provoking Russia.’ But in the interview, he created some distance between himself and the Kremlin, repeatedly calling for an end to the ‘war’ – a term Moscow refuses to use.

Mariupol, which had a prewar population of over 400,000, has come to symbolize the misery inflicted by the war. The siege of the city has trapped an estimated 100,000 civilians with little food, water, medicine or heat.

The Russians have pulverised most of Mariupol in a two-month siege that has trapped civilians with little food, water, medicine or heat. Civilians sheltering inside the plant have perhaps suffered even more.

About 100 of them were evacuated over the weekend – the first time some saw daylight in months.

The Russian government said it would open another evacuation corridor from the plant during certain hours on Thursday through Saturday, but Palamar said Putin’s troops failed to live up to the promise.

It is unclear how many Ukrainian fighters are still inside the plant but the Russians put the number at about 2,000 in recent weeks, with 500 reportedly hurt.

As the battle raged in Mariupol, Russian forces shelled elsewhere in the Donbas and also kept up their bombardment of railway stations and other supply-line targets across the country – part of an effort to disrupt the supply of western arms, which have been critical to Ukraine’s defence.

Ukrainian forces said on Thursday 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 hurt in shelling of cities in the Donbas over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said. The attacks also damaged houses and a school.

A day after Russian attacks were reported near Kyiv, in Cherkasy and Dnipro in central Ukraine, and in Zaporizhzhia in the south east, air raid sirens sounded anew on Thursday in the western city of Lviv, which has been a gateway for western arms and served as a relative safe haven for people fleeing fighting farther east.

Smoke rises over the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol as the commander in charge of its defence says ‘bloody battles’ have been raging inside for two days as Russia tries to seize it

Russian commanders claimed a three-day ceasefire would begin at Azovstal on Thursday morning to allow hundreds of civilians trapped inside to escape – though battles appeared to be ongoing in the early hours

Ukrainian forces have been trapped inside Azovstal since April 25 where they are staging an heroic last stand to prevent Putin moving troops further to the north to join the battle for Donbas (pictured, damage to the plant on May 3)

Azovstal is a sprawling industrial complex covering four square miles at the heart of Mariupol and is undercut by miles of tunnels designed to withstand a nuclear blast where both soldiers and civilians are sheltering (pictured, damage to some of the plant’s main buildings seen on May 3)

Heavily damaged factory buildings (bottom) are seen next to buildings that have only medium levels of damage (top) inside the Azovstal steel works in satellite images taken on Tuesday

If Russian troops can take Azovstal then it will give them full control over Mariupol, making it the largest city to fall into their hands of the war so-far and giving a major boost to their mission to take the Donbas region

An assessment by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Russian forces are struggling to gain traction.

‘Ukrainian defences have largely stalled Russian advances in eastern Ukraine,’ it said late on Wednesday.

‘Russian forces intensified airstrikes against transportation infrastructure in western Ukraine (on Wednesday) but remain unable to interdict Western aid shipments to Ukraine,’ it added.

The war has flattened swathes of cities and destroyed roads and bridges, and driven millions from their homes, including many who have crossed into other countries.

With the challenge of rebuilding and de-mining after the war in mind, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday announced the launch of a global fundraising digital platform called United24.

At the same time, Poland hosted an international donor conference that raised £5.25 billion in humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, Belarus announced the start of military exercises on Wednesday.

A top Ukrainian official said the country will be ready to act if Belarus joins the fighting.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said it does believe the drills pose a threat to Ukraine, but suspects Moscow will use them ‘to fix Ukrainian forces in the north, preventing them from being committed to the battle for the Donbas’.

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.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said that 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 rebuilding and mine-clearing after the war in mind, Zelenskyy announced the launch of a global fundraising platform called United24. At the same time, Poland hosted an international donor conference that raised $6.5 billion in humanitarian aid.

Belarus announced the start of military exercises Wednesday, stirring fears the country might jump into the war. Britain’s Defense Ministry said that 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.

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