kraine’s president has pleaded for help to save people trapped inside Mariupol’s Azovstal steel works after Russian troops were said to have entered the facility.
Volodymyr Zelensky asked United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for help on Wednesday night as the commander of Ukrainian forces inside the plant said “difficult bloody battles” were taking place.
“The lives of the people who remain there are in danger. Everyone is important to us. We ask for your help in saving them,” a statement from the president’s office said.
David Arakhamia, who heads the country’s ruling parliamentary faction, said on Wednesday evening that Russian troops “are already on the territory of Azovstal”, according to Radio Free Europe.
That was supported by senior Kyiv Independent journalist Illia Ponomarenko, who tweeted: “It is true that Russian forces have entered the Azovstal premises. The Mariupol garrison is repelling attacks, comms have been restored.”
Mr Arakhamia also said that the Kyiv government was in contact with the Ukrainian fighters still holed up in the plant.
Mariupol’s mayor, Vadym Boichenko, told broadcasters earlier in the day that contact had been lost with the Ukrainian fighters camped out in the plant, where civilians remain despite numerous evacuation efforts.
Mr Boichenko said more than 200 civilians remain in the plant, while some 100,000 civilians still remain in Mariupol.
The city’s mayor warned Russian and Ukrainian forces were engaged in heavy fighting at Azovstal.
It came as satellite images released on Wednesday revealed the extent of the damage at the steelworks.
The sprawling steel works have become the last pocket of resistance in the besieged southern city, with some 30 children thought to be among those awaiting evacuation from the plant.
Ukrainian military leaders stepped up calls to evacuate soldiers and civilians from the vast complex, which has become a symbol of resistance during the conflict.
“We’ll do everything that’s possible to repel the assault, but we’re calling for urgent measures to evacuate the civilians that remain inside the plant and to bring them out safely,” Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, said in an online post.
He added that throughout the night the plant was hit with naval artillery fire and airstrikes.
Although more than 100 people were evacuated from the Azovstal plant to the nearby city of Zaporizhzhia over the last few days, Mr Zelensky accused the Kremlin of violating evacuation agreements. “Currently, Russian troops are not adhering to the agreements,” the president said.
“They continue massive strikes at Azovstal. They are trying to storm the complex.” It is unclear how many Ukrainian fighters are still inside, but Russia has said it is around 2,000. A few hundred civilians also remained there, Ukrainian deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
More civilians were leaving Mariupol on Wednesday, the regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said, although it was not clear if any of those being evacuated were from the Azovstal plant.
Ukrainian intelligence officials warned that Moscow was planning to hold a military parade in the city, which has been the site of some of the most brutal violence during the conflict.
They claimed that Mariupol would become a “centre of ‘celebration’”, saying that Russian soldiers had begun to urgently clean the debris, dead bodies and unexploded land mines to pave the way for a “large-scale propaganda campaign”.
Meanwhile the governor of the eastern Donetsk region said Russian attacks left 21 dead on Tuesday, the highest number of known fatalities since April 8, when a missile attack on the railway station in Kramatorsk killed at least 59 people.
Russia also struck a military airfield near Ukraine’s south-western city of Odesa with missiles, destroying drones, missiles and ammunition supplied to Ukraine by the US and European allies, the defence ministry in Moscow said.
Explosions were also heard in Lviv, in western Ukraine, near the Polish border. The strikes damaged three power substations, knocking out electricity in parts of the city and disrupting the water supply, and wounded two people, local leaders claimed.
But British defence chiefs said Vladimir Putin’s forces are “struggling to break through” Ukrainian defences despite deploying thousands of troops for an advance in part of the Donbas region.
In its latest intelligence briefing on Wednesday morning, the Ministry of Defence said: “Russia has deployed 22 battalion tactical groups near Izyum in its attempt to advance along the northern axis of the Donbas.
“Despite struggling to break through Ukrainian defences and build momentum, Russia highly likely intends to proceed beyond Izyum to capture the cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk.
“Capturing these locations would consolidate Russian military control of the north-eastern Donbas and provide a staging point for their efforts to cut-off Ukrainian forces in the region.”