/Ukraine holds Mariupol steel mill amid Russian ultimatum; new US aid possible: Live updates – USA TODAY

Ukraine holds Mariupol steel mill amid Russian ultimatum; new US aid possible: Live updates – USA TODAY

Ukrainian forces continued to fight in the besieged city of Mariupol on Wednesday after a Russian ultimatum to troops holed up in the Azovstal steel mill to lay down their arms passed without a mass surrender.

Oleksiy Arestovych, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a social media post that the city was being held as the remaining Ukrainian forces inside the sprawling steel continued to face attacks from the Russian military. Civilians were also inside the plant, but the city’s mayor urged them to flee via humanitarian corridors.

Amid the siege in Mariupol and a shift in the fighting to eastern Ukraine, U.S. officials are also considering a new military aid package for Ukraine.

Four flights of U.S. arms, including howitzers, arrived in eastern Europe in the last 24 hours, part of the $800 million aid package approved last week, according to a senior Defense Department official.

U.S. troops have begun training about 50 Ukrainians to use the howitzers, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about military operations. The training will take about a week and is occurring outside Ukraine. Those Ukrainians will then train their own forces on the equipment.

Meanwhile, Russia continues attacks in eastern Ukraine and to reinforce its troops in the region for a broader offensive. The Russians have moved artillery units, headquarters staffs and helicopter units into the eastern Ukraine to support

In the last 24 hours, four additional Russian battalion tactical groups have been sent into Ukraine, the official said. The battalions, of about 800 to 1,000 troops, have been built up over the last few weeks. They include infantry, artillery and logistics units.

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Latest developments:

►More than 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, according to a U.N. refugee agency’s latest tally as of Wednesday.

►Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, told CNN on Wednesday that 80% of the region’s territory was under Russian control.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday the country would supply protective equipment like helmets and vests to Ukrainian rescue forces and civilian organizations. Though it has provided humanitarian aid, Israel has refused to supply Ukraine with weapons and other direct military assistance.

►Nuclear regulators have regained phone contact with operators of the Chernobyl power plant more than a month after contact was lost, the International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement.

►Russian and Belarusian tennis players will be barred from competing at Wimbledon due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the event’s organizers said Wednesday. 

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Yellen, Ukraine official walk out of Russia’s G-20 remarks

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Ukraine’s Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko walked out of a Group of 20 meeting Wednesday as Russia’s representative started talking.

Several finance ministers and central bank governors also left the room, according an official familiar with the meetings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the event was not public. Some ministers and central bank governors who attended the meeting virtually turned their cameras off when the Russia representative spoke, the person said.

The incident came amid the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings, in which finance heads gather to tackle the world’s most pressing issues. The brutal effects of Russia’s war against Ukraine have taken center stage, and Treasury officials said earlier this week that Yellen would try to avoid contact with Russian officials who plan to attend some Group of 20 events virtually.

President Joe Biden has said that Russia should not remain a member of the G-20, an international body of the world’s biggest economies that promotes economic cooperation between countries.

– Associated Press

What a new phase of war means for Ukrainian citizens in the east

Elina Miliushnikova watched her 7-month-old son sleep in his crib late Tuesday in her darkened Kharkiv apartment, hours after Russian rockets blasted the district where her parents live.

“Today we are really sad and depressed,” Miliushnikova, 31, told USA TODAY via WhatsApp before retreating to the building’s basement for the night. “All day we hear the sound of rockets.”

Nearly two months into the war, Russian forces are escalating attacks on eastern Ukraine in what officials from both nations say marks a new phase of the invasion. Civilians concerned about the renewed assaults this week are stocking up on supplies, preparing exit plans and calling out to the world for assistance. Read more about their efforts here.

– Grace Hauck

Kremlin: Ukraine given draft of Russia’s demands

MOSCOW – The Kremlin’s spokesman says Russia has presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands as part of peace talks and is now awaiting a response from Kyiv.

Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters Wednesday that Russia has passed on a draft document containing “absolutely clear, elaborate wording” to Ukraine and now “the ball is in their court, we’re waiting for a response.”

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Peskov didn’t give further details. He blamed Ukraine for the slow progress in negotiations, and claimed that Kyiv constantly deviates from previously confirmed agreements. “The dynamic of work on the Ukrainian side leaves much to be desired, the Ukrainians do not show a great inclination to intensify the negotiation process,” he said.

Ukraine presented Russia with its own draft last month in Istanbul, where the two sides held talks aimed at ending the conflict. It has been unclear how regularly the two sides have spoken to each other since then.

– Associated Press

US considering new Ukraine military aid package, including artillery

U.S. officials are considering a new military aid package for Ukraine that includes American artillery cannons while working with allies in eastern Europe to send them Soviet-era long-range rockets to reach deeper into Russian lines, a Defense Department official said Wednesday.

The new arms would follow an $800 million package approved last week that included howitzers. It comes as Russia has focused its forces in eastern Ukraine, where artillery and armored vehicles are expected to play a central role in the fighting.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that more military aid will likely be sent to Ukraine in coming months. The U.S. artillery will come from existing stocks and not affect readiness, the official said.

When asked by a reporter Tuesday whether his administration would be sending more artillery to Ukraine, President Joe Biden responded, “yes,” but did not elaborate.

– Tom Vanden Brook

Estonia will ban Russian flags, symbols in public meetings on May 9

HELSINKI — Estonia says it is prohibiting public meetings where people display Russian flags and military symbols during the Victory Day celebrations on May 9, which is traditionally celebrated by the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic-Russian population to mark the end of World War II.

“The Estonian state has so far been tolerant of the events of May 9, but Russia’s current activities in Ukraine preclude public meetings in Estonia expressing support for the aggressor state and displaying war symbols,” Police and Border Guard chief Elmar Vaher said Wednesday.

Police said Wednesday that commemorating those killed in World War II wasn’t forbidden in the country, but “it’s not to be used to incite violence and hatred between people.”

Among the banned symbols are the flags of the Soviet Union and Russia, USSR military uniforms and the black-orange Ribbon of Saint George worn in Russia to mark the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in WWII.

The ban is valid until May 10 and applies to the capital, Tallinn, and its surrounding areas.

Ethnic Russians make up about 25% of Estonia’s 1.3 million population, and they traditionally gather to lay flowers on May 9 at Tallinn’s Bronze Soldier statue commemorating the fallen Red Army troops in WWII battles in Estonia.

– Associated Press

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Russia advancing in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukrainian officials say

Russian troops were advancing toward Zaporizhzhia with battles occurring within the region, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday.

The head of the Zaporizhzhia Regional Military Administration, Oleksandr Starukh, described the new advance as “a massive offensive,” according to state news agency Ukrinform. The city’s regional council also warned of the Russian advance, CNN reported.

Starukh said the area around the town of Polohy had worsened with daily attacks, Ukrinform reported, while the regional council said Russian troops were making advances in the direction of nearby Huliaipole and Pokrovske, CNN reported.

The city of Zaporizhzhia is part of a humanitarian evacuation route from Mariupol that deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said would take take place Wednesday.

Mariupol mayor tells residents to leave besieged city

Remaining residents in the port city of Mariupol should leave as Russian forces encircle the last pocket of Ukrainian defense inside the Azovstal steel mill, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Wednesday.

Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Facebook a humanitarian corridor for women, children and older people had been agreed upon. Boychenko said buses, including one that that would pick up residents near the steel mill, would be used in the evacuation. Prior attempts relied on private cars as buses were unable to access to besieged city on the Sea of Azov.

“Do not be frightened and evacuate to Zaporizhzhia, where you can receive all the help you need — food, medicine, essentials — and the main thing is that you will be in safety,” Boychenko wrote in a statement issued by the city council.

More than 400,000 people lived in Mariupol before the Russian invasion, with at least half having since fled, Boychenko said. Russian shelling for weeks has left the city flattened and citizens without food or water

Russia’s attacks in eastern Ukraine mark new phase in war

Russia’s attacks in eastern Ukraine mark a new phase in the war as U.S. officials believe they will prelude a major offensive in the Donbas region, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said Tuesday.

The attacks, southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum, have come as Russia continues to add to its forces in Ukraine and resupply those already inside the country, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings.

The Russians inserted two battalion tactical groups into Ukraine in the last day, to increase the number to 78, the official said. Russian battalions vary in size from about 800 to 1,000 troops.

Both Ukrainian and Russian officials acknowledged Tuesday the war had entered a new phase. Ukraine’s military said “the occupiers made an attempt to break through our defenses along nearly the entire frontline,” while Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the goal was “full liberation” in Donetsk and Luhansk.

UN chief calls for ‘humanitarian pause’ for Orthodox Easter

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for a four-day pause in hostilities in Ukraine to observe Holy Week in the Orthodox Christian tradition.

Guterres said the pause should begin Thursday and said it was even more necessary given the intensified attacks in eastern Ukraine this week.

“The onslaught and terrible toll on civilians we have seen so far could pale in comparison to the horror that lies ahead. This cannot be allowed to happen,” Guterres told reporters, urging Russians and Ukrainians “to silence the guns and forge a path to safety for so many at immediate risk.”

Asked about Guterres’ proposal at a U.N. Security Council meeting Tuesday, Russian deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy was said he was “skeptical,” but that the decision would be up to Russia’s leaders.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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