Mariupol steel plant soon under Russian control, Chechen leader says — live updates

US President Joe Biden has announced new military assistance to Ukraine and said Washington saw “no evidence” that Russia was in control of the strategic port city. Follow DW for the latest.

  • Russia considers Mariupol under its control, aside from besieged steel plant
  • Putin orders siege instead of storming of Azovstal plant
  • Ukrainian President Zelenskyy claims he has not received Kremlin offer of peace talks
  • Luhansk regional governor says 80% of the region is controlled by Russian forces
  • The US announces $800 million in new military assistance

This live updates article is now closed. For our latest from April 22, click here. 

US to host defense talks on Ukraine in Germany 

The Pentagon announced that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will host talks on Ukraine with allies at the Ramstein Air Base near Frankfurt on April 26.

“The goal is to bring together stakeholders from all around the world for a series of meetings on the latest [Ukrainian] defense needs and… ensuring that Ukraine’s enduring security and sovereignty over the long-term is respected and developed,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

Kirby did not specify how many allies would participate.

Zelenskyy says Ukraine needs $7 billion a month to function

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country needs $7 billion (roughly €6.5 billion) a month to function amid the devastating “economic losses” caused by the Russian invasion

The figure is an increase from Ukraine’s previous estimate of $5 billion in monthly needs.

In a virtual address to a World Bank forum, Zelenskyy called on the global community to exclude Russia immediately from international financial institutions and urged all countries immediately to break up relations with Moscow.

Satellite imagery shows alleged mass grave site near Mariupol

Imagery released by the Maxar Technologies showed what appeared to be long rows of graves stretching away from an existing cemetery in the town of Manhush, outside Mariupol.

The images showed graves aligned in four sections of linear rows measuring approximately 85 meters (around 279 feet) per section and containing more than 200 graves. 

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko accused Russian forces of “hiding their military crimes” by taking the bodies of civilians from the city and burying them in Manhush.

According to Boychenko, as many as 9,000 civilians could be buried at the site.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on Thursday, April 21, shows an overview of the cemetery in Manhush, some 20 kilometers west of Mariupol

Ukrainian official says Russia captured 42 villages in Donetsk 

Olena Symonenko, an aide to the chief of staff to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told national television that that Russian troops captured 42 villages in the eastern Donetsk region.

“Today 42 villages were added to the list of those that have been occupied. This is at the expense of the Donetsk region,” Symonenko said. “This happened today and might be that our forces will win them back tomorrow.”

Pentagon: US developed ‘Ghost’ drones for Ukraine

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US Air Force developed so-called “Ghost” drones for Ukraine as part of the new $800 million weapons package. 

The drones would allow Ukrainian forces to strike Russian troops and equipment from the air without necessarily having to be as close to their targets as with some ground-based weapons.

“This was rapidly developed by the Air Force in response specifically to Ukrainian requirements,” Kirby said.

Little else is known about those drones, including their range or exact capabilities. 

Earlier on Thursday, the White House said more than 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems would be provided to Ukraine as part of the new package.

According to the Pentagon, less than a dozen Ukrainians have been trained in the US on operating the Switchblade drones — single-use weapons that fly into their targets and detonate on impact.

Zelenskyy insists Mariupol not a lost cause

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has disputed Russia’s claims that it seized control of the strategically vital Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, saying it was not completely lost. 

“The situation is difficult, the situation is bad,” Zelenskyy told journalists in Kyiv, adding that there were still several ways to “liberate” the city.

“There is a military way to prepare for, and we are preparing for it,” Zelenskyy said, stressing that Western help was needed for this solution. 

Zelenskyy went on to say that another track would be a diplomatic and humanitarian one, listing several variants Kyiv had already proposed to Moscow, including prisoner swaps.

Mariupol was surrounded by Russian troops soon after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine began in February. 

There are believed to be hundreds of civilians, along with Ukrainian fighters, trapped inside the city’s Azovstal steelworks. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday the Russian army would not storm the plant, but would rather seal it off “so that not even a fly can get in or out.” 

 

Control of Mariupol would allow Russia to secure an overland route linking the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014, and parts of the Donbas controlled by separatists

Scholz to face Bundestag defense committee

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to face questions from the German parliament’s defense commission about Berlin’s weapons deliveries to Ukraine. 

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the committee’s chairperson, asked Scholz to attend the committee’s next meeting in a letter cited by news agencies dpa and AFP. 

“The situation in the city of Mariupol and the endless suffering of the civilians trapped there impressively demonstrate the brutality of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warfare,” Strack-Zimmermann said in the letter. 

“The question of what contribution Germany, and in particular the Bundeswehr, can actually make in terms of arms deliveries is existential for the people in Ukraine,” she added.

Scholz has been under pressure for weeks over the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine. 

On Thursday, the German government announced that it is working on a three-way swap of armaments via Slovenia that would see heavy equipment sent to the country. 

The workaround comes after Scholz said the German army’s stockpile had nothing left to give to Ukraine, and Berlin would instead help Kyiv acquire weapons through the arms industry. 

Zelenskyy calls for more heavy weapons

Speaking in a video address to the Portuguese parliament, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated that his country needed more heavy weapons to defend itself from the Russian invasion. 

Zelenskyy also accused Russian forces of committing many atrocities in Ukraine, including in the port city of Mariupol. 

The Ukrainian leader called on Portugal to support a global embargo on Russian oil.

Zelenskyy addressed Portuguese lawmakers via video call

IMF chief: Aid for Ukraine should come as grants, not loans

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said that funds to Ukraine to cover its financial shortfall over the next couple of months should be provided as grants, rather than loans, to avoid overburdening the country with debt.

“We are of the view that as much as possible it should come from grants rather than from loans,” Georgieva said. 

The proposed aid would amount to roughly $5 billion (€4.6 billion).

“In the immediate future, Ukraine would have dramatically reduced revenues and even after the war would be faced with very high bills related to reconstruction. So piling more debt on top of the one they already carry … it’s just not wise,” she told a news conference at the IMF and World Bank spring meetings.

Also at the summit, the steering committee of the IMF was apparently prevented from issuing a formal communique due to Russia’s refusal to agree to strong language condemning the war in Ukraine. 

“Russia’s war against Ukraine has made it impossible to come to a consensus on a communique,” Spanish Economy Minister Nadia Calvino told a news conference in Washington, DC.

A divisive meeting of G20 finance officials on Wednesday also did not result in a communique due to disagreement with Russia.

The 24-member IMF Committee has no formal decision-making powers, but its communiques provide strategic direction for the fund’s work.

Ukrainians turn to Easter recipes as war overshadows holiday

Search engines in Ukraine were dominated by recipes for the Orthodox Easter holiday ahead of the weekend. 

The country’s Orthodox majority celebrates Easter on April 24. 

According to Google trends, people in Ukraine were looking for Easter recipes more than for news on the war. 

The Kulich Easter bread drizzled with a sugar glaze is a popular for the holiday in Ukraine and neighboring countries

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had appealed for a cease-fire during Easter, but Russia has reportedly rejected the proposal. 

Millions of Ukrainians will celebrate Easter away from home this year. 

In Hamburg, Germany, a Ukrainian Easter Festival was due to take place from April 18 to 24. Ukrainian cooks will make traditional Easter baskets with homemade Easter bread, painted eggs and sausages.

Russia bars entry for VP Kamala Harris, Mark Zuckerberg

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has imposed a travel ban on US Vice President Kamala Harris and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, as well as 27 other prominent US citizens.

The move comes in retaliation for Western sanctions imposed over the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine.

The ministry said the ban, which also includes top Pentagon officials, US business leaders and journalists, would remain in effect “in perpetuity.”

Russia also announced a travel ban on 61 Canadian citizens, including a number of officials and journalists. 

The ministry said the list includes those “directly involved in the development, substantiation and implementation of the Russophobic course of the ruling regime in Canada.”

IEA urges ‘small actions’ to help cut reliance on Russian energy

The International Energy Agency and the European Commission have called on the public to help reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian energy by committing to “small actions.” 

“We say how can the European citizens play their part to save money for themselves, to reduce the reliance on Russian energy and to help to achieve our climate goals,”  IEA executive director Fatih Birol said.

Birol outlined actions that could help, including adjusting the heating, working more from home and cycling or walking for short journeys. 

The recommendations could help a European household save on average more than €450 ($490) per year and avoid the use of 220 million barrels of oil annually, the IEA and the European Commission said.

It comes as the European Union is scrambling to find alternatives to Russian energy after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia currently supplies 40% of the EU’s gas needs. 

Zelenskyy rules out visit to Moscow for talks: report

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has reportedly told a Russian media outlet he would not be heading to Moscow for direct talks with Russian leaders on ending the war at the moment.

“In the name of my country, I would be ready to visit any place on this planet. But certainly not now and certainly not Moscow. That is simply out of the question,” he was quoted as telling Russian media outlet Mediazona in an interview republished by Austrian newspaper Der Standard.

“Nevertheless, under different circumstances and with different rulers in Moscow, anything would be possible,” he added.

Report: 3 buses seen evacuating civilians out of Mariupol

Journalists with the AFP news agency reported that they have seen three school buses filled with evacuees from the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol. 

The buses reportedly carried the evacuees to Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine. 

The report comes after attempts to open humanitarian corridors from Mariupol fell through multiple times due to fierce fighting in Ukraine. 

Zaporizhzhia, where Mariupol are typically taken, is not part of the territories that Russia claims to be in control of

Biden meets Ukrainian PM, announces more aid

Ukrainian Prime Minsister Denys Shmyhal was in Washington, where he met with US President Joe Biden

Biden said that Ukraine was now experiencing “a critical window as Russia sets the stage for the next phase of the war,” pledging a further $800 million in aid to Kyiv. He will ask Congress for further funds next week, he added.

The US would also be sending weapons “directly to the front lines of freedom,” he vowed. He also promised to ban Russian-affiliated ships from entering US ports. 

The new military package includes heavy artillery, 144,000 rounds of ammunition and drones for the escalating battle in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. It builds on roughly $2.6 billion in military assistance that Biden had previously approved. 

The US will also streamline refugee applications for Ukrainians and others fleeing the fighting, Biden said. 

In his speech, the US president also cast doubt on Russian claims to control all of the besieged city of Mariupol.

“It’s questionable whether he does control Mariupol,” Biden said. “There is no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen.” 

Thanking Biden for the assistance, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “This help is needed today more than ever! It saves the lives of our defenders of democracy and freedom and brings us closer to restoring peace in [Ukraine].” 

German economist: no business ties to Russia without political change

There can be “no fundamental normalization of the relationship with Russia” while “the current political leadership is still in power,” Michael Harms, managing director of the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations told DW.

Harms’ organization helps companies navigate what kind of business relationships with Russian firms are still allowed under the current raft of economic sanctions. However, Harms said, there isn’t much to be done until there is political change in Moscow.

The German economy had “unanimously condemned this war of aggression,” he said, adding that “no one really doubts the sense and necessity of these sanctions,” meaning German businesses were willing to take the hit in order to send a strong message to Russia’s President Putin and his allies. 

Zelenskyy says 120,000 stranded in Mariupol

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy has said that 120,000 civilians remain stranded in the city of Mariupol

The civilians were blocked from leaving despite Russian assertions that they would be allowed to leave, as Moscow’s forces now control almost all of the city.

Only the Avonstal steel plant complex remains under Ukranian control after two months of bombardment.

UN: 7.7 million internally displaced

More than 7.7 million people are estimated to have been displaced within Ukraine by Russia’s war, after fleeing their homes, the United Nations has said.

This is in addition to the more than 5 million Ukrainians who have left the country entirely since Moscow’s troops invaded on February 24. 

The figure for the number of internally displaced persons, issued by the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), is significantly higher than the 7.1 million estimate it last gave on April 5.

“Women and children, the elderly, and people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected, as they all represent a highly vulnerable group of people,” said IOM director-general Antonio Vitorino.

Spain, Denmark pledge more military aid

On a visit to Kyiv, the prime ministers of both Spain and Denmark pledged increased military and financial aid to Ukraine.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said her country would increase its support by about $90 million, bringing the total up to $140 million.

Spanish leader Pedro Sanchez said a new batch of 200 tons of ammunition and military supplies had been sent to Ukraine, more than doubling the quantity of military aid his government has sent so far.

The two leaders also made a visit to the war-ravaged town of Borodyanka, where Sanchez said that he was “shocked to witness the horror and atrocities of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war.”

Prisoners exchanged

Russia has handed over 10 soldiers to Kyiv, including two officers, and nine civilians in a prisoners of war exchange, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said on Thursday.

“This time there were wounded among those released and… now they will be able to receive full treatment and undergo rehabilitation,” Iryna Vereshchuk posted on Telegram.

It was not immediately clear who and how many prisoners Ukraine handed over to Moscow.

UK rolls out 26 new sanctions

Britain has set out 26 new sanctions, targeting Russian military generals responsible for what it called atrocities in Ukraine, as well as individuals and businesses supporting the Russian armed forces.

“Today’s new wave of sanctions hits the generals and defense companies that have blood on their hands,” Foreign Minister Liz Truss said in a statement.

The latest penalties come on top of hundreds of earlier UK sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans on prominent Russian politicians including President Vladimir Putin, as well as oligarchs who have homes in London’s “Billionaire’s Row.”

One of the individuals targeted by the latest sanctions is Azatbek Omurbekov, a commander in the Russian army who the British government said was involved in the “Bucha massacre.”

Estonia recognizes war as ‘genocide’

Estonia became one of the first countries to recognize Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a genocide, according to public broadcaster ERR.

The parliament unanimously adopted a statement that says, in part: “In the temporarily occupied territories… the Russian Federation has committed acts of genocide, among other mass atrocities against the civilian population. These have consisted of murders, enforced disappearances, deportations, imprisonment, torture, rape and the desecration of corpses.”

The Estonian Parliament, the Riigikogu, urged other countries to follow suit, which Latvia has already done.

“Qualifying the crime as such will lead to irrevocable condemnation, starting with the perpetrators and ending with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin in person,” said Ukranian MP Verkhovna Rada in a speech to the legislature.

Germany says ‘no taboo’ on weapons for Ukraine

Germany is looking at the extra maintenance and the ammunition that would be needed for it to deploy fighting vehicles to Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany was examining the idea of sending Leopard tanks and Marder fighting vehicles. Speaking on the second day of a visit to the Balkans, she said Berlin was trying to establish what preparation would be needed.

Baerbock was addressing criticism of Germany’s apparent hesitation when it comes to delivering weaponry.

“There are no taboos for us with regard to armored vehicles and other weaponry that Ukraine needs,” she said in a news conference with her Estonian counterpart.

Berlin is already supplying weaponry and ammunition directly to the Ukrainians, but it has yet to authorize the delivery of tanks or warplanes.

The minister said Berlin’s present focus was to ensure Ukraine was quickly supplied with older Soviet-designed kit that its troops could use without extra training. Germany has prioritized such three-way swaps, replacing the stocks of allied countries that had such weaponry with more modern German-made equipment.

Slovenia is set to send a large number of its T-72 battle tanks to Ukraine; which Germany is set to replace with Marder tanks and Fox wheeled tanks from its own supplies.

Baerbock added that the German army itself faces equipment shortages for its own current missions.

Ukraine presidency: Russia knew it could not take steel works

A Ukrainian presidential adviser has said Russia decided to blockade the Azovstal steel plant because it knew it could not take the giant complex by force.

The comment came after Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled a planned operation to storm the facility. Russian forces have repeatedly issued ultimatums ordering the defenders to surrender.

“They physically cannot take Azovstal, they have understood this, they have taken huge losses there. Our defenders continue to hold it,” adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said at a briefing.

Arestovych said he thought the forces were also needed for Russia to carry out other missions, further north.

“They have moved part of their forces [from Mariupol] to the North in order to enforce the troops attempting to fulfill their main objective… advancing to the administrative boundaries of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”

Two representatives of the Ukraine delegation in talks with Russia had earlier said they would go to Mariupol to negotiate the evacuation of troops.

“Today, in a conversation with the city defenders, there was a proposal to hold negotiations on evacuation of our military garrison right there, in Mariupol,” Ukrainian presidential adviser David Arakhamia said. “For our part, we are ready to arrive for such negotiations at any time as soon as we receive confirmation from the Russian side.”

Latvian parliament says Russia has committed genocide

Latvia’s parliament, the Saemia, has adopted a statement on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, accusing Moscow of genocide.

In the document, the parliament “recognizes that the Russian Federation is currently committing genocide against the Ukrainian people.”

The statement expresses “support for the initiative of democracies to join forces in gathering and investigating evidence of war crimes committed by the Russian Federation throughout Ukraine.”

The parliament referred to the “extensive testimony and evidence of brutal mass crimes committed by the Russian army.”

These incidents cited include murder, torture, sexual abuse and desecration of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol and other places.

It added that Russia was also abducting and deporting Ukrainian citizens to its territory.

After the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from northern Ukrainian areas, hundreds of corpses of civilians were discovered, many of them bound.

Ukraine and the US have accused Russia of genocide, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague has begun investigations. Russia firmly rejects the accusations.

Ukraine police say nine bodies show torture signs

Police in Ukraine have announced that the bodies of nine civilians have been found in the town of Borodiýanka, near Kyiv, some with “signs of torture.”

“These people were killed by the [Russian] occupiers and some of the victims show signs of torture,” local police chief Andriy Nebytov said on Facebook.

The Ukrainian government said Borodyanka was the scene of “massacres of civilians” in March, when Russian forces occupied the town.

“In one pit, there were two 35-year-old men. And next to them, a 15-year-old teenage girl,” Nebytov said.

“In another, law enforcement forces have discovered the bodies of six people: four men and two women” who “could be identified as inhabitants of the city.”

“The Russian military have deliberately shot down civilians who did not put up any resistance to them,” he said, noting that the bodies of the victims were taken to morgues in the Kyiv region for examination. Forensic doctors and investigators also inspected the two graves.

Since the withdrawal of Russian forces three weeks ago from around the capital, hundreds of civilian bodies have been found by Ukrainian authorities.

Putin cancels storming of steel plant, claims control of Mariupol

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian military to cancel plans to storm the Azovstal plant in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

The Russian leader said he wanted the plant to continue to be securely blockaded instead.

Putin gave the order to his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in a televised meeting at the Kremlin.

“I consider the proposed storming of the industrial zone unnecessary,” Putin told Shoigu. “I order you to cancel it.”

“Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly can escape,” Putin said, adding it would be “impractical” to storm the entire plant.

The Russian leader welcomed Shoigu’s assertion that Moscow’s troops were now in full control of the rest of the city of Mariupol. Ukraine has not commented on the latest claim.

The minister had previously told Putin that more than 2,000 Ukrainian fighters were still holed up at the huge plant and its underground tunnels and chambers.

Spanish and Danish prime minister visit Kyiv

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has arrived in Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for a show of solidarity.

The Spanish government said Sanchez had traveled to the Ukrainian capital with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

Sanchez had already indicated on Wednesday that he would be visiting Zelenskyy, although further details were withheld for security reasons.

“In the next few days, I will be meeting with President Zelenskyy and I will convey to him the unequivocal commitment of the European Union and, without doubt, of the government of Spain and Spanish society to peace.”

Meanwhile, the Danish prime minister’s office said the discussions would discuss further support for the Ukrainians and the prosecution of “war crimes and human rights violations.”

Ukraine says some evacuees leave Mariupol

Ukraine says four buses carrying evacuees from Mariupol have left the besieged city.

“Four evacuation buses managed to leave the city yesterday through the humanitarian corridor,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a statement.

She added that the evacuation of women, children and the elderly would continue Thursday.

“The security situation is difficult. Things may change,” she added. 

White House to announce more aid

US President Joe Biden is expected to announce plans for additional military aid to Ukraine, a US official told the Associated Press.

It’s believed that Biden will make an address at the White House on Thursday morning about his plans for a new package in addition to some $2.6 billion already pledged to the country.

The latest package is expected to be of a similar size to the $800 million announced by the US president last week.

The aid is expected to include heavy artillery and ammunition for Ukrainian forces in the battle for the Donbas region.

UK says Russia seeks gains ahead of May 9 celebration

British military intelligence says Moscow could be pushing harder with its offensive in Donbas in an effort to make gains ahead of Russia’s Victory Day, held annually on May 9.

It said the Russian military was advancing from staging areas elsewhere in Donbas to the city of Kramatorsk, an important Ukrainian military hub located in northern Donetsk province. The city with a population of 160,000 is said to be under persistent fire from rockets.

The UK’s Defense Ministry said there was a high level of Russian air activity as Moscow sought to provide close air support to its eastern offensive. The aim, it said, was to destroy Ukrainian air defense capabilities.

The UK intelligence report said Russia was seeking to demonstrate successes ahead of Victory Day, celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. The day is marked by military parades, in which Russia shows off its latest weapons.

“This could affect how quickly and forcefully they attempt to conduct operations in the run-up to this date,” the report said.

China’s Xi says sanctions won’t work

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday reiterated the country’s opposition to unilateral sanctions while speaking at the annual Boao Forum for Asia.

Xi criticized what he referred to as “long-arm jurisdiction,” adding that “de-coupling” and pressure exerted by cutting off supply chains wouldn’t work.

Beijing has accused the West of adopting a “Cold War mentality” toward Russia and abstained in a UN General Assembly vote on February 25 that condemned the invasion of Ukraine.

In practice, imposing sanctions on Russia through the UN would likely prove impossible given that Moscow has veto powers on the organization’s Security Council.

Red Cross denies Kyiv’s accusations of Kremlin collaboration

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has denied charges leveled at it by Ukraine that the organization has been working “in concert” with Russia.

Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova denounced the ICRC’s announcement last month that it was planning to open a branch in Russia’s southern Rostov region to help Ukrainian refugees. Kyiv claims that Ukrainians in Rostov have been forcibly deported there by Russian forces.

Denisova said she had asked the ICRC, as well as her Russian counterpart Tatyana Moskalkova, for information on these refugees so Kyiv could help them return home. Denisova claims she received no answer from either Moskalkova or the ICRC.

Denisova said in a TV interview that she “strongly [suspected]” that the Red Cross was “working in concert” with Russia.

Responding to the accusations, the ICRC told the AFP news agency that it ” does not ever help organize or carry out forced evacuations. We would not support any operation that would go against people’s will and international law.”

“Building and maintaining a dialogue with parties to a conflict is essential to get access to all people affected and obtain necessary security guarantees for our teams to deliver life-saving aid.”

Mariupol plant Azovstal will fall under Russian control — Chechen leader

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said he believed Russian troops would have complete control of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Thursday.

“Before lunchtime, or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the forces of the Russian Federation,” Kadyrov said.

Kadyrov is the president of the Chechen Republic, an autonomous unit of the Russian Federation located in the northern Caucasus. Russia has made use of Chechen fighters in its invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have been hunkered down in the steelworks in the besieged port city for weeks but have been complaining that they’re running low on ammunition and key supplies. One commander said on Wednesday that his marines were “maybe facing [their] last days, if not hours.” 

Russia had issued another call for the city’s defenders to surrender and offered a ceasefire to evacuate civilians on Wednesday, with Ukraine instead calling for a special round of talks with no preconditions in the city. 

Russia controls 80% of Luhansk region — regional governor

Regional governor Serhiy Haidai said that 80% of the Luhansk region was now under Russian control.

Luhansk, along with Donetsk, is one of the two regions that make up Donbas, which has been disputed between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists since 2014. Separatist forces have controlled the two regional capitals since the start of the conflict.

Before the Russian Federation launched its invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government controlled 60% of the Luhansk region, while the rest was in the hands of separatist forces. Moscow recognized the independence of the two self-proclaimed “people’s republics” in Donbas in late February, days before it invaded Ukraine.

Haidai said that have seized the town of Kreminna and are threatening Rubizhne and Popasna. He urged all residents to evacuate immediately.

The Donetsk region has also seen heavy fighting, particularly around the port city of Mariupol which has been under siege since the start of Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine denies having received Russian offer of peace talks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has denied receiving a written offer for a negotiated settlement to the war which the Kremlin claims to have sent to Kyiv on Wednesday.

“I have heard nothing, I have seen nothing. I am convinced that they have handed us nothing,” Zelensky said at a press conference in Kyiv during a visit from European Council chief Charles Michel.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had earlier claimed that a draft document that contained “clear and elaborate formulations” had been handed over to Ukraine.

While speaking in Kyiv, Zelenskyy accused Peskov of “playing football with himself.”

Summary of Wednesday’s events in Russia-Ukraine crisis

Ukrainian presidential advisor and negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said Kyiv would agree to Russia’s proposal to hold a “special round” of negotiations in the besieged city of Mariupol.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen led a multi-nation walkout of a G20 finance meeting in protest of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia said it test-launched its new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile. US officials said they had been aware of the Russian launch and viewed as a routine one.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres officially requested to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to press for peace. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a review of Moscow’s position within the World Trade Organization, looking to counter “illegal” sanctions imposed over its military operation in Ukraine.

The All England Club venue confirmed that tennis players from Russia and Belarus will be banned from the Wimbledon tournament in June.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that a draft document of peace proposals had been handed over to Ukraine. Ukraine confirmed it had received the proposals and said it was studying them.

You can revisit our April 20 live updates here

rc,sdi,es/wmr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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