Ukraine said a preliminary agreement had been reached to establish a humanitarian corridor and evacuate thousands of people from the beleaguered coastal town of Mariupol on Wednesday, as Russia unleashed its military might against Ukrainian towns and villages in a bid to to cut the country in two and take control. from the eastern industrial center of coal mines and factories.
The fighting took place along a boomerang-shaped front for hundreds of kilometers in what is known as the eastern region of Donbass. If successful, Russian President Vladimir Putin could claim victory after his failed attempt to storm the capital, Kyiv, and higher-than-expected Russian casualties.
“We are probably facing our last days, even hours”
Key to the Russian campaign is the capture of the city of Mariupol, which would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 It would also free up Russian troops to move elsewhere in the Donbas region.
Ukrainian troops said the Russian army dropped heavy bombs to flatten what remained of a sprawling steel factory in Mariupol – seen as the last obstacle for the city’s defenders, and hit a hospital where hundreds of people were staying.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said there was a “preliminary” agreement to open a humanitarian corridor for women, children and the elderly to leave Mariupol in the west towards the city of Zaporizhzhia controlled by the Ukraine Wednesday afternoon. She said on the Telegram messaging app that civilians in Mariupol were facing a “catastrophic humanitarian situation”.
Vereshchuk previously said no agreement had been reached with Russia on an evacuation route in each of the past three days. There was no immediate confirmation from the Russian side, which issued a new ultimatum to Ukrainian defenders to surrender on Wednesday after a previous ultimatum was ignored. Ukraine and Russia have frequently accused each other of obstructing evacuations from Mariupol or firing along the agreed route, which is usually only open to people in private vehicles.
“We are probably facing our last days, if not hours,” said a commander of the Ukrainian marines fighting in the steelworks, Serhiy Volyna, in a video posted on social networks. “The enemy outnumbers us 10 to 1. They have the advantage in the air, in artillery, in their ground forces, in equipment and in tanks. We are defending only one object, the Azovstal plant where, in addition to military personnel, there are also civilians who have been victims of this war. We call and implore all world leaders to help us. We ask them to use the procedure of ” extraction” and to take us to the territory of a third state. All of us, military battalion of Mariupol, more than 500 wounded and hundreds of civilians, including women and children, we implore to get to safety on the territory of a third state,” Volyna said.
“I can confirm that there are a lot of civilians,” Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov told CBS News partner network BBC News. “They know that the steel mills had good bomb shelters and they stored food and water in the bomb shelter. That’s why they decided with their families to live in this bomb shelter. -bombs.”
Orlov said that no help is currently possible for people at the steel plant.
“They have an absolute lack of everything. A lack of water, food, medicine, aid, and Russia is totally blocking everything, any humanitarian aid or evacuation,” Orlov said.
The fighting rages on
The eastern cities of Kharkiv and Kramatorsk also came under deadly attack. Russia said it hit areas around Dnipro and Zaporizhia with missiles.
Near Zaporizhia, paratrooper Vyacheslav Dimovon, 29, was buried after a Russian anti-tank mine claimed his life on Saturday. His mother, Alla, told CBS News’ Charlie D’Agata how important it was for Dimovon to fight for his country.
“He had a crazy dream of becoming a soldier,” Alla said. “But I did not bring him into the world for war, but for a peaceful life. So that he could live with his beloved wife Ivanna.”
Dimovon and his 23-year-old widow had only been married 18 months. They were planning to start a family when the war broke out.
“Every time we spoke, I was like, ‘I love you, take care,'” Ivanna told CBS News. She said she knew every video call with her husband could be her last.
“‘Now it’s, ‘I love you, take care of me,'” she said.
Both sides have described the Russian assault that began on Monday as a new phase in the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russian military was throwing everything it had into the battle, with most of its combat-ready forces now concentrated in Ukraine and just across the Russian border.
“They pushed almost everyone and everything capable of fighting us against Ukraine,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation.
Despite claims that they only strike military sites, the Russians continue to target residential areas and kill civilians, he said. He also said that the Kremlin did not respond toViktor Medvedchuk, imprisoned leader of a pro-Russian party, for defenders of Mariupol.
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss Pentagon assessments on the war, said the Russians had added two combat units, known as battalion battle groups, to Ukraine during the previous 24 hours. This brings the total number of units in the country to 78, all in the south and east, from 65 last week, the official said.
That would translate to 55,000 to 62,000 troops, from what the Pentagon said at the start of the war, that was the typical strength of a unit of 700 to 800 troops. But accurately determining Russia’s combat capability at this stage is difficult.
A European official, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said Russia also had 10,000 to 20,000 foreign fighters in the Donbas region. According to the official, it is a mixture of mercenaries from the private Russian Wagner Group and Russian proxy fighters from Syria and Libya.