Russian forces will seize the strategically important Ukrainian port city of Mariupol today, a top ally of Vladimir Putin has claimed after Ukraine warned its forces are unable to “hold out for much longer”.
The besieged southern city has been a key target for Russia since the war in Ukraine began almost two months ago.
After coming under a barrage of daily attacks, the majority of the area has been destroyed, and access to electricity, heating, food and medical supplies has been cut off for many civilians.
Russian forces have claimed to be on the cusp of gaining full control of the city for days, but units of Ukrainian Marines, as well as the Azov Batallion of the Ukrainian Army, have successfully repelled their attacks.
Other key developments:
• US President Joe Biden convened military leaders at White House after planning more weapons assistance to Ukraine
• The food security crisis caused by the war could last into next year, the World Bank warned
• Boris Johnson said peace talks with Russia are likely to fail and compared holding talks with Putin to negotiating with a crocodile
• Wimbledon has barred all Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tennis championships
However, the head of Russia’s republic of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, whose forces have been fighting in Ukraine, has said Mariupol will fall today.
The last main stronghold of resistance in the city is based around the Azovstal steelworks, where an estimated 1,000 civilians have been sheltering from shelling and missile attacks.
“Before lunchtime, or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the forces of the Russian Federation,” Mr Kadyrov said.
Ukrainian marine commander, Serhiy Volny warned that fighters at the plant may not be able to “hold out for much longer”.
“The enemy units are dozens of times larger than ours, they have dominance in the air, in artillery, in ground troops, in
equipment and in tanks,” he said.
Speaking to Sky News, he said troops at the plant are “outnumbered 10 to one” by Russian forces and more than 500 fighters need medical support.
If the key port city were to fall, it would mark Moscow’s biggest victory of the war so far and allow Russian forces to create a land corridor between Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and the rebel-led regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in the east of the country.
Ukraine offers to swap Russian prisoners of war for humanitarian corridor
On Wednesday, the situation in Mariupol became so desperate that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy proposed swapping Russian prisoners of war for a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to leave the city safely.
Ukraine is ready for a “special round of negotiations” with no conditions “to save our guys, (the far right) Azov
(battalion), military, civilians, children, the living and the wounded,” Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said.
Previous attempts to allow residents to flee the city have proved unsuccessful, with Ukraine claiming Russia has failed to observe agreed-upon ceasefires.
Moscow has denied allegations that it has targeted civilians and it has blamed Ukraine for the failed evacuation attempts.
More than five million people have fled the country since war broke out, but it is believed that more than 100,000 people are still trapped inside Mariupol with little food, water, or access to medical supplies.
Russia successfully tests new intercontinental ballistic missile
The Mariupol warning comes after Russia launched its new offensive to take control of the eastern part of the country, what is known as the Donbas region.
Russian forces continued their pursuit by carrying out dozens of strikes on military facilities and shooting down a Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter near the village of Koroviy Yar, its defence ministry said.
President Putin also claimed his country has successfully tested a Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile.
He said the test launch should “provide food for thought for those who, in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten” Russia.