Ukraine’s president says he hopes fighters still trapped in a Mariupol steelworks can be rescued.
Around 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers are thought to remain in tunnels under the Azovstal factory, where they have been locked up for weeks as Russian forces advance further into the southern port city.
They are the last pocket of resistance in an almost destroyed area, and they have repeatedly refused to surrender.
However, their cause seems almost hopeless – many of them are injured, have no or little ammunition and suffer from severe shortages of food, water and electricity.
But during his Friday night address, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “We are working on diplomatic options to save our servicemen who still remain in Azovstal.
“Influential mediators are involved.
He gave no further details.
In other key developments:
• Western officials say Russia has taken the ‘unusual’ decision not to invite foreign leaders to celebrate Victory Day next week, a day that marks the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945
• US President Joe Biden has authorized an additional $150 million in military assistance to Ukraine, including artillery shells and radar systems
• Russian troops continue to struggle – they are focused on the southeastern Donbass region, but Ukraine says its forces have repelled 11 attacks in the area, which Russia has not confirmed
• A number of cities, including Odessa, implemented curfews and increased street patrols ahead of Victory Russia Day. Ukrainian officials have warned that Russian attacks could increase during the Patriotic Day
• Ukraine says it has made progress in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, retaking five villages and part of a sixth
• Russia said two self-proclaimed breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine – the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic – had appointed ambassadors to Moscow. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesman says they are ‘traitors’ and likely to be charged with treason
It came after dozens of civilians were evacuated from the steelworks on Friday afternoon, with Ukrainian and Russian officials pledging to continue evacuations on Saturday.
The mayor of Mariupol said earlier this week that 200 civilians were trapped at the factory – a small fraction of the 100,000 people still thought to be in the city compared to its pre-war population of 400,000. .
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Earlier on Friday, Mr Zelenskyy spoke at an event organized by the Chatham House think tank in London, saying there is still the possibility of negotiations with Russia.
He said the bridges between the two countries were not yet “destroyed” and that arrangements were needed for the talks to “stop the killings”.
Satellite imagery shows damage to Azovstal steelworks throughout the war
Analysis: Historical defense of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol thwarts Putin’s plans – and that’s important
But he said those talks could only take place if Moscow withdrew its troops, adding that he had not been elected to lead “some kind of mini-Ukraine”.
“They have to fall back,” he added.
“In this situation, we can start talking normally.”
He said that “despite the fact that they are destroying all our bridges, I think not all bridges are destroyed yet”.