Ukraine war: Mariupol evacuation stalls, as Russian deadline for surrender passes

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Local civilians walk past a tank destroyed during heavy fighting in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

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Russian forces have continued their new offensive in the east of Ukraine, assaulting cities and towns along a front hundreds of kilometres long.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russian military was throwing everything it has into the battle, which could be pivotal for control of the country’s eastern industrial heartland.

Read more about Wednesday’s events as they unfold in our blog below, or follow our live coverage in the video player above.

07:31

Wednesday’s key points:

    Russia’s surrender deadline for Mariupol expired Wednesday afternoon, as the city’s defenders say they are facing their ‘last hours.’

    Ukraine says a planned evacuation of civilians did not work as planned, blaming Russia for not holding to a ceasefire. A humanitarian corridor had been agreed, with Ukraine hoping to send buses to evacuate 6,000 women, children and the elderly.

    Russian troops have poured into eastern Ukraine in what both sides describe as a new phase of the war, a potentially pivotal battle for control of the country’s industrial heartland.

    Russia has presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands as part of potential peace talks.

    The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine has topped five million, says the UN. 

    Poll finds majority of Swedes are in favour of joining NATO, as the country deliberates membership of the defensive alliance. Finland’s parliament has also opened a debate on its NATO stance. 

    The President of the European Council has visited Kyiv, having previously expressed his outrage at the “crimes against humanity” occurring in Ukraine. 

    Wimbledon has banned tennis players from Russia and Belarus from this summer’s tournament.

    Russia has tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile, which Putin says should make its enemies ‘think twice’. The US responded that the launch was “routine” and did not constitute “a threat.”

20:06

Mariupol evacuation stalls, Ukraine blames Russia

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said on Wednesday that an agreed humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol had not worked as planned, blaming Russian forces for not holding their ceasefire.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk also said Russian-organised buses failed to deliver evacuees on time to the point where Ukrainian buses and ambulances were waiting.

Ukrainian officials estimated that about 1,000 civilians were sheltering underneath the vast Azovstal steel plant, which is the last Ukrainian stronghold in the southeastern port city of Mariupol.

Earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday said that country’s armed forces have been unable to “unblock” Mariupol, which has been besieged by Russian forces in a recent push by its military.

He was speaking at a news conference alongside European Council President Charles Michel.

Michel is the latest European leader to visit Zelenskyy in Kyiv since the beginning of the conflict.

(Reuters and AP)

18:55

Testing of Russian missile ‘not a threat’, says US

The Pentagon has responded to Russia’s test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, saying it does not constitute “a threat” to the United States or its allies. 

The US Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby described the launch as “no surprise.”

Moscow “appropriately informed” the US that it would take place, in accordance with Russia’s obligations under existing nuclear treaties.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the test fire took place at 3:12 p.m. (12:12 GMT) and hit a target located more than 5,000 kilometres away.

Vladimir Putin praised the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile as “a unique weapon.”

“[It] will ensure Russia’s security against external threats. and which will make potential opponents think twice,” he said. 

The missile – which weighs over 200 tons – is supposed to outperform previous Russian models, which can hit targets 11,000 km away. 

18:45

Zelenskyy: Ukraine ‘ready’ to swap Russian prisoners of war 

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says he is ready to swap Russian prisoners of war in exchange for safe passage for civilians and Ukrainian troops in Mariupol.

Zelenskyy said there are an estimated 1,000 civilians sheltering in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, following a visit from President of the European Council, Charles Michel. 

He added that the situation in the besieged Ukrainian city is worsening, with hundreds of wounded without access to medical care.

The Ukrainian leader went on to say that he had not seen or heard about a document that the Kremlin said it had sent to Ukraine in connection with peace talks.

Earlier Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow was waiting for a response after it had handed a document to the Ukrainian side.

18:12

New Russian offensive in Kyiv still possible, warns city’s mayor

In an interview with Euronews, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko did not rule out a another Russian offensive against the Ukrainian capital.

17:59

Russia tests new intercontinental ballistic missile 

The Russian Defence Ministry has said it test-launched a new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, according to Reuters. 

Speaking on Russian TV,  Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the missile would provide “food for thought” for those threatening Russia. 

He says the missile – one of six new Russian strategic weapons unveiled in 2018 – has no comparison elsewhere in the world. 

In the west, the Sarmat is known as the Satan II. Putin and his officials have claimed it is capable of penetrating any prospective missile defense.

The Russian leader called the launch “a significant event” for Russia’s defence industry.

He said the Sarmat will protect Russia from external threats and “make those who, in the heat of frantic, aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country, think twice.”

Putin made the remarks about the missile on TV, while he was being briefed by the country’s mlitary.

The missile was shown launching from Plesetsk in northwestern Russia and it allegedly hit a target in the Kamchatka peninsula in the far east. 

17:33

Joining EU a ‘priority’, Zelenskyy tells Michel 

The EU will do “everything possible” to help Ukraine win the war with Russia, European Council President Charles Michel has said during a visit to Kyiv.

He has been giving a joint news conference with Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy after the two leaders went on a walk in the city (see earlier post).

Zelenskyy said that joining the EU is a “priority” for his country.

“You are not alone, we are with you and we will do everything we can to support you and to ensure that Ukraine wins the war,” Michel said. 

He added that Putin “will not succeed” in dividing the EU. 

The news conference can be viewed on Charles Michel’s Twitter account:

16:53

Wimbledon bans Russian and Belarussian players

Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to play at Wimbledon this year because of the war in Ukraine, the All England Club announced Wednesday. 

The reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev will not be able to attend the UK’s prestigious tennis tournament, despite recently being ranked as the world number one. 

Other prominent players affected by the ban are men’s number eight Andrey Rublev, Aryna Sabalenka, a 2021 Wimbledon semifinalist and Victoria Azarenka, former women’s number 1, who has won the Australian Open twice. 

Wimbledon begins on June 27.

Russian athletes have been banned from competing in many sporting competitions following their country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Belarus has also been sanctioned for aiding Russia. 

16:33

End the ‘crazy war’, says Russian oligarch

One of Russia’s ultra-rich businessmen has taken to social media to criticise the “massacre” in Ukraine and called for an end to the “crazy war.” 

Oleg Tinkov, who has a net worth of $800 million (€737 million), wrote in a colourfully-worded Instagram post that “90% of Russians” are against the Ukraine invasion. 

Tinkov added he could not see “any beneficiary” of the conflict, and called on the west to give Putin a credible exit strategy. 

Tinkov is one of Russia’s most high-profile entrepreneurs and founded the global online finance firm Tinkoff Bank and owned the cycling team Tinkoff-Saxo.

He is one of the most prominent Russian oligarchs to publicly condemn President Vladimir Putin’s actions.

16:13

Zelenskyy posts video of himself with President of European Council

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has tweeted a video of him and Charles Michel, President of the European Council, walking around Kyiv.

The tweet reads: “Sanctions against Russia, defence and financial support of our state, and answers to the questionnaire on compliance with EU criteria were discussed. Thank you for a meaningful meeting and solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”

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