Russian forces on Thursday kept up an onslaught against Ukrainian forces at a steel plant-turned-bunker in the key port city of Mariupol, but Ukrainian officials say they’re having some success repelling Russian troops and retaking some areas in the south and east.
Russian troops have been heavily attacking the expansive Azovstal steel plant for days, where the last remaining Ukrainian fighters and some civilians have been holed up for weeks. Humanitarian officials have managed to evacuate some of the citizens from the plant.
Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, said that Russia shelled the plant throughout Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
“There is non-stop shelling and assault, even at night with the adjustment of fire from drones. In some areas, hostilities are already beyond the fence of the plant,” Andriushchenko said, according to CNN. “The last [four square miles] of freedom in Mariupol have been turned into hell.”
The Red Cross, which took part in evacuation operations, called negotiations with Russian officials for the humanitarian corridor a “very delicate operation.”
“It’s a progressive trust-building exercise, which is important as our role as neutral intermediary,” Red Cross spokesman Chris Hanger said, according to NBC News. “We wish we would have gotten more civilians out.”
Ukrainian fighters have said that Russian forces breached the plant’s perimeter in their advance on opposition targets.
Moscow has stated the importance of capturing Mariupol, as it offers access to Crimea — which was annexed by Russia in 2014 — and the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin declared victory in Mariupol last month, but there are still pockets of resistance from Ukrainian fighters there.
Meanwhile, Kyiv said Thursday that Ukrainian forces have retaken several Russian-held areas in the east and in southern Ukraine, around Mykolayiv and Kherson.
Moscow is keeping up efforts to gain total control of the east’s Donbas region, which includes the separatist-held areas of Luhansk and Donetsk, and is working to establish a land corridor from the region to Crimea via Mariupol. Russia had carried out nearly 50 airstrikes in the area on Tuesday.
The Russian defense ministry said forces have destroyed six railway stations that it said were used to supply Ukrainian fighters — and that Russian submarines in the Black Sea destroyed four Ukrainian ammunition and arms depots.
British intelligence officials said that Moscow is making a new push to take over the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk.
“Russia will likely seek to inflate the threat posed to Ukraine by these exercises in order to fix Ukrainian forces in the North, preventing them from being committed to the battle for the Donbas,” the British Ministry of Defense said in a tweet.