Ukraine war: Russia pours in troops as new offensive in the east of Ukraine ramps up

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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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AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov

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:

    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.

    A humanitarian corridor has been agreed to evacuate women, children and the elderly from the besieged city of Mariupol. Ukraine hopes to send 90 buses to Mariupol on Wednesday to evacuate about 6,000 women, children and elderly people.

    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. 

14:25

A growing majority of Swedes are in favour of joining NATO, a poll showed on Wednesday, as policy-makers in both Sweden and Finland weigh up whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should lead to an end to decades of military neutrality.

The poll by Demoskop, and commissioned by the Aftonbladet newspaper, showed 57% of Swedes now favoured NATO membership, up from 51% in March. Those opposed to joining fell to 21%, from 24%.

The March poll was the first to show a majority of Swedes in favour of joining NATO.

Sweden has built its security policy on “non-participation in military alliances”. But like Finland, the invasion of Ukraine has forced a radical rethink. Both countries are now seen as highly likely to join the 30-nation alliance.

The Demoskop poll consisted of 1,177 interviews carried out between April 14 and April 19.

(Reuters)

14:03

Russia has presented Ukraine with document outlining its peace talk demands

The Kremlin’s spokesman says Russia has presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands as part of peace talks and is now awaiting a response from Kyiv.

Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters Wednesday that Russia has passed on a draft document containing “absolutely clear, elaborate wording” to Ukraine and now “the ball is in their court, we’re waiting for a response.”

Peskov didn’t give further details. He blamed Ukraine for the slow progress in negotiations, and claimed that Kyiv constantly deviates from previously confirmed agreements. “The dynamic of work on the Ukrainian side leaves much to be desired, the Ukrainians do not show a great inclination to intensify the negotiation process,” he said.

Ukraine presented Russia with its own draft last month in Istanbul, where the two sides held talks aimed at ending the conflict. It has been unclear how regularly the two sides have spoken to each other since then.

(AP)

14:01

What are the steps to join NATO?

Finland and Sweden are moving closer to NATO membership. But what exactly are the steps to join?

Watch our explainer

13:50

Mariupol surrender deadline expires 

Russia’s latest ultimatum to Ukrainian fighters in the besieged city of Mariupol expired Wednesday afternoon, with no sign of a mass surrender, according to Reuters. 

In a statement published Tuesday, the Russian military demanded that Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol lay down their arms from 2:00 p.m. (Moscow time) on Wednesday, 20 April.

This deadline has now passed.

But Ukrainian resistance is continuing, with troops holding out in Maripol’s Azovstal power plant.

Earlier Wednesday morning a Ukrainian commander at the plant issued a desperate plea for help, saying his marines were “maybe facing our last days, if not hours.”

“The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one,” he added. 

Thousands of Russian troops backed by artillery and rocket barrages are attempting to capture Mariupol as part of what Ukrainian officials have called the Battle of the Donbas. 

Russia’s nearly eight-week-long invasion has failed to capture any of Ukraine’s largest cities.

13:14

Germany keeps contents of weapons delivery to Ukraine partially secret

Berlin has not disclosed all of the weapons it sent to Ukraine, Germany’s foreign minister said. 

“We have delivered anti-tank missiles, Stingers and other things that we have never spoken about publicly so these deliveries could happen quickly,” said Annalena Baerbock at a news conference in Riga, Latvia, which was reported on by Reuters. 

She added that Germany would help Kyiv maintain more advanced weapons systems it may buy, alongside training Ukrainian soldiers on how to use them. 

Asked whether Germany would send its Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery system to Ukraine, Baerbock said Germany would train Kyiv’s soldiers on using and maintaining more advanced systems, which it might obtain from other allied countries or buy outright.

Some experts say Ukraine needs this powerful artillery system to mount a counterattack against Russian forces in the country’s east. 

12:54

More than 5 million have fled Ukraine, says UN

The United Nations’ refugee agency has said more than five million people have fled Ukraine, since the outbreak of war. 

5.01 million was the exact figure given by the Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

Neighbouring countries Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova and Russia itself have borne the brunt of this influx, with Poland taking in more than half of the total.

Yet it is unclear how many Ukrainian refugees have remained in the countries they first entered or travelled elsewhere. 

On March 30, the UNHCR announced that 4 million people had fled Ukraine, meaning the total number of Ukrainian refugees has increased by one million in under a month. 

(AP)

12:32

‘Do not be frightened’ – Mariupol mayor urges people to leave city 

The mayor of Mariupol is urging people to leave the city, saying “don’t be frightened and evacuate.” 

Vadym Boychenko made the appeal on Wednesday to all those who remain in the besieged port city. 

He said 200,000 had already fled Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000 people. 

“Do not be frightened and evacuate to Zaporizhzhia, where you can receive all the help you need — food, medicine, essentials — and the main thing is that you will be in safety,” he wrote in a statement issued by the city council.

Boychenko said buses would be evacuating people from three pickup points, one of them near the Azovstal steel mill which is one of the latest bastions of Ukrainian resistance in the city. 

Attempts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol have routinely failed in the past, with people leaving the city in their own vehicles. 

(AP)

11:43

Israel ready to play host to Russia-Ukraine meeting: TASS

In an interview with Russian news agency TASS, Israel’s ambassador to Russia, Alexander Ben Zvi, said that his country was ready to host a possible meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Vladimir Zelensky of Ukraine.

Israel would consider it “a great honour” to host possible talks between the two presidents, he said, adding that it was up to Putin and Zelensky to make the decision.

Turkey has previously hosted face-to-face meetings between the two countries.

Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett have held several telephone conversations since the beginning of the year, according to the news agency, with the Israeli prime minister also making a brief visit to Moscow in early March.

10:53

Norway donates Mistral short-range missile systems to Ukraine

Norway is donating about 100 air defence systems to Ukraine, with the Scandinavian country’s defence minister saying that “the country is depending on international support to resist Russian aggression.”

Bjørn Arild Gram said Norway had donated French-made Mistral short-range missile systems which currently are being phased out by the Norwegian Armed Forces, “but it is still a modern and effective weapon that will be of great benefit to Ukraine”.

The weapons have already left Norway which previously has donated 4,000 anti-tank missiles, protective equipment and other military equipment to Ukraine, he added.

(AP)

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