The mayor of the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol said on Wednesday that contact has been lost with Ukrainian forces holed up in the city Azovstal Steel Factory Amid fierce battles with Russian forces.
“Unfortunately, yes, there is heavy fighting in Azovstal today,” Vadim Boychenko told Ukrainian television.
He said city officials had “lost contact” with Ukrainian forces inside the plant and had no way of knowing “what is going on, whether they are safe or not”.
The Ukrainian military said, on Tuesday, that Russian forces launched an offensive to defeat forces inside Azovstal shortly after the United Nations and the Red Cross confirmed the evacuation of more than 100 civilians from the factory.
Russia confirmed that it was attacking the Ukrainian positions at the factory “with artillery and aircraft”, but the Kremlin denied earlier Wednesday that Russia had stormed Azovstal.
Russia is attacking with heavy artillery, tanks and warplanes, Boychenko said, adding that warships adjacent to coastal steel works also took part in the attack.
“There are locals there, civilians, hundreds of them are there. There are children waiting to be rescued. There are more than 30 children,” the mayor said.
Mariupol is among the cities worst affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent Charlie D’Agata mentioned Busloads of families barricaded in Soviet-era tunnels beneath a steel mill before a brief ceasefire that allowed them to flee over the weekend have finally arrived at the relative safety of Ukraine-controlled territory in the city of Zaporizhia.
One survivor said: “We were praying to God that rockets flew over our shelter, because if they hit our shelter, we would all be finished.”
Forcing the population to flee or face death appears to be part of Russia’s strategy in the war that Vladimir Putin launched on February 24. The campaign of terror now extends across a vast area of the country, from coastal cities such as Mariupol and Odessa In the south, to the collapsed cities in the east such as Kharkiv – the second most populous city in Ukraine, many of which have been reduced to ruins.
Despite Russian tactics of bombing from a distance, its ground forces have so far made only modest gains. Special Forces Major Oleksandr told CBS News that the reason for this was that Russian forces would not fight head-to-toe with Ukrainian soldiers.
“They burn everything on the ground,” he said.
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