‘Days or hours left’: Russia tightens the noose in Mariupol

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces tightened the noose around the defenders holed up Wednesday in a mammoth steel plant that represented the last known Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol, as a fighter apparently on the inside pleaded on a video for help: “We may have only a few days or hours left.”

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces tightened the noose around the defenders holed up Wednesday in a mammoth steel plant that represented the last known Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol, as a fighter apparently on the inside pleaded on a video for help: “We may have only a few days or hours left.”

With the holdouts coming under punishing new bombing attacks, another attempt to evacuate civilians trapped in the pulverized port city failed because of continued fighting.

Meanwhile, the number of people fleeing the country topped 5 million, the Kremlin said it submitted a draft of its demands for ending the war, and the West raced to supply Ukraine with heavier weapons to counter the Russians’ new drive to seize the industrial east.

A member of security forces gives first aid to an injured man following a Russian bombing of a factory in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022, killing at least one person and injuring three others. Russian forces attacked along a broad front in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday as part of a full-scale ground offensive to take control of the country's eastern industrial heartland in what Ukrainian officials called a "new phase of the war." (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

With global tensions running high, Russia reported the first successful test launch of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, the Sarmat. President Vladimir Putin boasted it can overcome any missile defense system and make those who threaten Russia “think twice,” and the head of the Russian state aerospace agency called the launch out of northern Russia “a present to NATO.”

The Pentagon described the test as “routine” and said it wasn’t considered a threat.

On the battlefield, Ukraine said Moscow continued to mount assaults across the east, probing for weak points in Ukrainian defensive lines. Russia said it launched hundreds of missile and air attacks on targets that included concentrations of troops and vehicles.

The Kremlin’s stated goal is the capture of the Donbas, the mostly Russian-speaking eastern region that is home to coal mines, metal plants and heavy-equipment factories. Detaching it would give Putin a badly needed victory two months into the war, after the botched attempt to storm the capital, Kyiv.

The Luhansk governor said Russian forces now control 80% of his region, which is one of two that make up the Donbas. Before Russia invaded on Feb. 24, the Kyiv government controlled 60% of the Luhansk region.

A police officer checks the body of a woman killed during a Russian bombardment at a residential neighborhood in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Russia ratcheted up its battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland on Tuesday, intensifying assaults on cities and towns along a front hundreds of miles long in what officials on both sides described as a new phase of the war. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the Russians, after seizing the small city of Kreminna, are now threatening the cities of Rubizhne and Popasna. He urged all residents to evacuate immediately.

“The occupiers control only parts of these cities, unable to break through to the centers,” Haidai said on the messaging app Telegram.

Analysts say the offensive in the east could devolve into a war of attrition as Russia runs up against Ukraine’s most experienced, battle-hardened troops, who have fought pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas for eight years.

Russia said it presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands for ending the conflict — days after Putin said the talks were at a “dead end.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “the ball is in their court, we’re waiting for a response.” He gave no details on the draft, and it was not clear when it was sent or if it offered anything new to the Ukrainians, who presented their own demands last month.

A woman walks next to a damaged building after a Russian bombardment in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Russia ratcheted up its battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland on Tuesday, intensifying assaults on cities and towns along a front hundreds of miles long in what officials on both sides described as a new phase of the war. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy said he had not seen or heard of the proposal, though one of his top advisers said the Ukrainian side was reviewing it.

Moscow has long demanded Ukraine drop any bid to join NATO. Ukraine has said it would agree to that in return for security guarantees from a number of other countries. Other sources of tension include the status of both the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Moscow in 2014, and eastern Ukraine, where the separatists have declared independent republics recognized by Russia.

In devastated Mariupol, Ukraine said the Russians dropped heavy bombs to flatten what was left of the sprawling Azvostal steel plant, believed to be the city’s last pocket of resistance.

A few thousand Ukrainian troops, by the Russians’ estimate, remained in the plant and its labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers spread out across about 11 square kilometers (4 square miles). Zelenskyy said about 1,000 civilians were also trapped there.

A Ukrainian posted a video plea on Facebook urging world leaders to help evacuate people from the plant, saying, “We have more than 500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians with us, including women and children.”

The body of a man is covered by a tarp from a damaged truck following a Russian bombing of a factory in Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Russian forces attacked along a broad front in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday as part of a full-scale ground offensive to take control of the country's eastern industrial heartland in what Ukrainian officials called a "new phase of the war." (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

The officer, who identified himself as Serhiy Volynskyy of the 36th Marine Brigade, said: “This may be our last appeal. We may have only a few days or hours left.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.

The Russian side issued a new ultimatum to the defenders to surrender, but the Ukrainians have ignored all previous demands.

All told, more than 100,000 people were believed trapped with little if any food, water, medicine or heat in Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of over 400,000.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the latest effort to open a safe corridor for women, children and the elderly to escape failed because the Russians did not observe a cease-fire. Many previous such agreements have fallen apart because of continued fighting.

A Zelenskyy adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Twitter that he and other Ukrainian negotiators were ready to hold talks without any conditions to save the lives of trapped Mariupol defenders and civilians. There was no immediate response from Russia.

A member of security forces gives first aid to an injured man following a Russian bombing of a factory in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022, killing at least one person and injuring three others. Russian forces attacked along a broad front in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday as part of a full-scale ground offensive to take control of the country's eastern industrial heartland in what Ukrainian officials called a "new phase of the war." (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned of horrors yet to be revealed in Mariupol, given the death and destruction left behind in Bucha, near Kyiv, after the Russians retreated.

“We can only anticipate that when this tide also recedes from Mariupol, we’re going to see far worse, if that’s possible to imagine,” he said.

Mariupol holds strategic and symbolic value for both sides. The scale of suffering there has made it a worldwide focal point of the war. Mariupol’s fall would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, and free up Russian troops to move elsewhere in the Donbas.

As Russia continued to funnel troops and equipment into the Donbas, Western nations rushed to boost the flow of military supplies to Kyiv for this new phase of the war, which is likely to involve trench warfare, long-range artillery attacks and tank battles across relatively open terrain.

U.S. President Joe Biden was set to announce plans Thursday to send more military aid to Ukraine, according to a U.S. official.

A serviceman of Donetsk People's Republic militia walks past damaged during a heavy fighting mosque in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Taking Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized from Ukraine from 2014. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)

The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Biden will detail his plans to add to the roughly $2.6 billion in military assistance the administration has already approved. Canada and the Netherlands also said they would send more heavy weaponry.

Also, a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment of the war, said the training of Ukrainian personnel on American 155 mm howitzers has begun in a European country outside Ukraine, and the first of 18 promised such weapons began arriving on the continent.

Putin, meanwhile, boasted that the Sarmat missile has “no equivalents in the world.” The Sarmat is intended to eventually replace the Soviet-built missile code-named Satan by NATO as a major component of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

It will ”make those who, in the heat of frantic, aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country think twice,” the Russian leader said.

Looking for a path to peace, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requested meetings with Putin and Zelenskyy in their capitals to discuss how to stop the fighting. The U.N. received no immediate response.

An interior ministry sapper checks the body of a Russian soldier as he searches for unexploded devices, in the village of Moshchun, close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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Associated Press journalists Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine; Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine; and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other AP staff members around the world.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

A woman walks next to the body of a man killed during a Russian bombardment at a residential neighborhood in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Russia ratcheted up its battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland on Tuesday, intensifying assaults on cities and towns along a front hundreds of miles long in what officials on both sides described as a new phase of the war. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Ukrainian soldiers walk on a destroyed bridge in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Refugees from Ukraine stay inside a vast accommodation center set up at the Global EXPO exhibition hall in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. The United Nations’ refugee agency says that more than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. The Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 put the total number of refugees at 5.01 million. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Volodymyr Lukyanovych, 63, cooks his dinner outside his house after his building was destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Citizens of Irpin are still without electricity, water and gas after since the Russian invasion began. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Displaced people have lunch cooked by volunteers, at a restaurant that was transformed into a shelter for those who are fleeing the war from eastern region of the country, in Dnipro, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded the country. The agency announced the milestone in Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Catherina, 82, cries as she talks about the day she left her house carrying only the clothes the she is wearing to flee the Russian attacks in her town, as she sits on a bed settled in a restaurant that was transformed into a shelter for those who are fleeing the war from the eastern region of the country in Dnipro, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded the country. The agency announced the milestone in Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
The bodies of four people who died during the Russian occupation await burial during funerals in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Alexandra Kusminova pets her cat, named Mouse, as she sits on a bed settled in a restaurant that was transformed into a shelter for those who are fleeing the war from the eastern region of the country in Dnipro, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. "We pray every day for everything to be fine, so many people and children have died. For what? Why this war? ", asks the 61-year-old woman, who left her home with her daughter and granddaughter, fleeing the Russian attacks in Avdiivka. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded the country. The agency announced the milestone in Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A Ukrainian soldier stands during the funeral of his father, who died due to the lack of medical care because of the Russian occupation, in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Nikolay Godin, 65, who left his home in Severodonetsk due to the Russian attacks, sits at the top bunk settled in a restaurant that was transformed into a shelter for those who are fleeing the war from the eastern region of the country in Dnipro, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded the country. The agency announced the milestone in Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
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