Ns News Online Desk: Russian-backed fighters are storming the area where Mariupol’s last Ukrainian defenders are holed up – the Azovstal plant, a massive iron and steel works – according to a pro-Moscow official.
Eduard Basurin, who represents the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, says assault troops are being helped by Russian aircraft and artillery.
The strategic southern port city has been besieged by Russian troops since early March.
Russian forces are bombing the area heavily, and also shelling residential areas in another part of the city, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol says.
A thousand civilians are also in the Azovstal plant, local officials say, having taken refuge in bunkers and tunnels at the site. Basurin has denied these reports.
Moscow says most of the city is under Russian control. If the whole city falls, it would be a major strategic prize for Russia, leaving it in control of a vast swathe of southern and eastern Ukraine.
Russia has called on Ukrainian soldiers defending the city to surrender, and earlier today issued a fresh ultimatum for them to do so. Clashes have been reported across a vast swathe of eastern Ukraine, after Russia began its renewed assault.
Ukrainian positions are said to have come under attack along the entire 300-mile (480km) front line. Russia says it struck more than 1,000 targets overnight in the Donbas – an eastern area of the country.
Defending troops are fighting back, however. The mayor of Kharkiv has told Ukrainian forces are “rebuffing the enemy well”.
Street battles have been reported in Kreminna, a city in the Luhansk region now occupied by Russian soldiers.
Last night, President Zelensky said a long-awaited “battle for the Donbas” was finally under way.