Russia’s military has said it will open humanitarian corridors from the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged port city of Mariupol for the next three days to allow civilians to leave the facility.
In an online posting, the military said the corridors would be open from 8am to 6pm local time.
During this period Russian forces would cease any military activity and withdraw units to a safe distance, it said.
Earlier, the mayor of Mariupol has said heavy fighting is taking place at the Azovstal steel works where the city’s last defenders and some civilians are holding out.
Vadym Boichenko said on national television that contact had been lost with the Ukrainian fighters still in the sprawling steel works and that more than 30 children were among those awaiting evacuation from the plant.
Earlier it was reported that Russian forces had begun storming the steel mill containing the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol.
The takeover began after evacuations from the bombed-out plant saw scores of Ukrainian survivors finally reaching safety following long days and nights holed up inside under constant shelling.
One woman said the assault began “as soon as we were brought out” of the plant in the Ukrainian port city.
Another spoke of the “animal fear” she felt when the building she was in was hit by a bomb.
It is believed, however, about 200 civilians are still inside the steelworks, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said – and that 100,000 remain in Mariupol as a whole.
The Soviet-era plant had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance and defiance.
In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that by storming it, Russian forces had violated agreements for safe evacuations.
He said the initial evacuations were “not a victory yet, but it’s already a result”.
And he added: “I believe there’s still a chance to save other people.”
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The UK’s Ministry of Defence, in its latest intelligence update, said Russia had deployed 22 battalion tactical groups near the city of Izium in an “attempt to advance along the northern axis of the Donbas”.
It added: “Despite struggling to break through Ukrainian defences and build momentum, Russia highly likely intends to proceed beyond Izium to capture the cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk.
“Capturing these locations would consolidate Russian military control of the northeastern Donbas and provide a staging point for their efforts to cut off Ukrainian forces in the region.”
In other battlefield developments, Russian troops shelled a chemical plant in the eastern city of Avdiivka, killing at least 10 people, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
“The Russians knew exactly where to aim – the workers just finished their shift and were waiting for a bus at a bus stop to take them home,” Kyrylenko wrote in a Telegram post, adding the move was “another cynical crime by Russians on our land”.
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Explosions were also heard in Lviv, in western Ukraine, near the Polish border.
The strikes damaged three power substations, knocking out electricity in parts of the city and disrupting the water supply, the mayor said.
Lviv has been a gateway for NATO-supplied weapons and a haven for those fleeing the fighting in the east.
A rocket also struck an infrastructure facility in a mountainous area in Transcarpathia, a region in far western Ukraine that borders Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, authorities said.
There was no immediate word of any casualties.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said Russian aircraft and artillery had hit hundreds of targets in the past day, including troop strongholds, command posts, artillery positions, fuel and ammunition depots and radar equipment.
Meanwhile Ukrainian officials said the countrywide railroad infrastructure was also still under attack.
Oleksandr Kamyshin, the head of the Ukrainian railways, said Russian strikes on Tuesday had hit six railway stations in the country’s central and western regions, inflicting heavy damage.
The Ukrainian military also reported strikes on railways in the Kirovohrad region, with unspecified casualty numbers.