The Russian ultimatum to Ukrainian troops in Mariupol to surrender or die passed on Wednesday afternoon, but the leader of a unit thought to be holding out in the besieged city stated his forces could only last days or hours.

 

The UN announced on Wednesday that the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24 has surpassed five million. More than half of the people are children.

 

Thousands of Russian troops have attempted to advance in what Ukrainian officials refer to as the Battle of the Donbas, a new push to conquer two eastern provinces that Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.

The commander of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, one of the last forces believed to be defending Mariupol, appealed for international assistance in escaping the city’s siege in a video.

 

“This is our message to the rest of the world.” It’s possible that this will be our final trip. “We may only have a few days or hours left,” Major Serhiy Volyna warned in a Facebook video. “The enemy units are dozens of times greater than ours; they control the air, artillery, ground forces, equipment, and tanks.”

 

In what sounded like a packed room, Volyna spoke in front of a white brick wall. Reuters was unable to confirm where the video was shot, when it was shot, or who else might have been present.

 

Russia’s nearly eight-week invasion of Ukraine has failed to conquer any of the country’s major cities. After an assault on Kyiv was defeated last month, Moscow was forced to retreat from northern Ukraine, but has now poured troops back in for an assault on the east that began this week.

 

Russia was targeting the last significant Ukrainian stronghold, the Azovstal steel mill, with bunker-buster bombs in the ruins of Mariupol, scene of the war’s bloodiest combat and worst humanitarian catastrophe, according to Kyiv. Women and children, according to Ukrainian officials, are trapped in bunkers beneath the factory.

 

On Twitter, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak stated, “The world sees the death of children online and remains mute.”

Since the beginning of the war, Russia has attempted to take complete control over Mariupol. Its acquisition would be a major strategic prize, connecting pro-Russian rebel territory in the east with the Crimea area, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

 

Only five people had surrendered, Russian-backed rebels announced shortly before the deadline of 2 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Wednesday. Russia had claimed the day before that no one had responded to a similar surrender demand.

 

For the first time in weeks, Ukraine announced plans to send 90 buses to Mariupol to evacuate 6,000 inhabitants, claiming that it had struck a “preliminary agreement” with Russia on a safe path. However, none of the previous agreements have held up in practice, with Moscow obstructing all convoys.

 

Mariupol, formerly a bustling port with a population of 400,000, has been reduced to a blasted wasteland, with bodies littering the streets and residents confined to cellars. Officials in Ukraine claim that tens of thousands of civilians have died as a result of the conflict.

 

As of Wednesday, UN figures revealed that 5.03 million people had fled Ukraine, increasing the total to over 5 million for the first time.

On Twitter, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said, “They have left behind their homes and families.”

“..Each successive attack dashes their hopes. Only the conclusion of the war would allow them to reconstruct their lives.”

The Donbass War

 

As Russia seeks a victory to justify President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion, the war for the Donbas region, which comprises the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, could prove decisive. Putin claims that Ukraine persecuted Russian-speakers in the Donbas, which Kyiv denies.

 

“It was the tragedy that occurred in the Donbas, including in the Lugansk People’s Republic,” Putin said to a girl from Luhansk on Wednesday, according to Russian television. “It was the tragedy that occurred in the Donbas, including in the Lugansk People’s Republic, that forced, simply forced Russia to launch this military operation, which everyone is well aware of today,” he said.

 

Russia is focusing on moving toward the strategically significant Donbas city of Sloviansk, according to Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych, but “so far they are not succeeding.” Targeting that location from multiple angles appears to be part of an apparent attempt to encircle Ukrainian soldiers in the east.

 

Russia’s “military capacity has been severely degraded” since the start of the war, according to Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov. “We’re defeating the occupiers and will continue to do so!”

 

Peace discussions have come to a halt. The Kremlin accused Kyiv of stalling and shifting its views in the talks. Kiev accused Moscow of obstructing discussions by refusing humanitarian cease-fires, particularly in the beleaguered city of Mariupol.

 

Fighting in the Donbas was growing as Russian forces attempted to break through Ukraine’s lines, according to British military intelligence, and Russia was continuing building up soldiers on Ukraine’s eastern border.

 

Moscow hopes that its firepower superiority would help it defeat Ukrainian defences more effectively than it did in the unsuccessful campaign on Kyiv, when its overstretched supply lines were attacked by nimble tiny forces.

 

On Tuesday, Russian forces captured Kreminna, a frontline town of 18,000 people, just one day after commencing the Donbas offensive. Russian soldiers tried an offensive in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, close to Russia’s supply routes to Donbas, according to Ukraine’s military staff.

 

Charles Michel, the head of the European Council, which brings together the 27 EU member states, is the latest European official to visit Kyiv and express his support.

 

Russian tennis players will be banned from the Wimbledon tennis event, according to Sportico, a sports industry news site. This is the latest proof of Russia’s worldwide isolation.

 

The grand slam event’s organizer, the All England Lawn Tennis Club, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. “It is wrong to make sports people hostages of political intrigue,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated.

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