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Russia-Ukraine live updates: Russian forces try to storm steel plant in Mariupol

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(NEW YORK) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered “stiff resistance,” according to U.S. officials.

Russian forces have since retreated from northern Ukraine, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. The United States and many European countries accused Russia of committing war crimes after graphic images emerged of dead civilians in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv. Moscow is now said to be refocusing its offensive on the eastern Donbas region, as it attempts to capture the besieged port city of Mariupol.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Apr 19, 6:26 am
Russia declares next phase of Ukraine invasion

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Russia is starting the next phase of its “special military operation” in neighboring Ukraine, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“This operation will continue. Another stage of this operation is beginning,” Lavrov said in an interview Tuesday with English-language Indian television network India Today. “I am sure this will be a very important moment of this entire special operation.”

Lavrov noted that the goal of the operation is to “fully liberate” the Russian-backed separatist regions of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, “as it was declared from the very start.”

Apr 19, 6:16 am
Russia-backed separatist forces try to storm Azovstal plant in Mariupol

Russia-backed separatist forces are trying to storm a steel plant in besieged Mariupol where Ukrainian troops are holed up, according to separatist spokesperson Eduard Basurin.

Basurin, spokesman of the militia for a pro-Russia breakaway republic of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine’s disputed Donbas region, told Russian state media on Tuesday that a separatist special forces unit was chosen to assist the Russian military in storming the giant plant of the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works company in Mariupol, a strategic port city in eastern Ukraine’s war-torn Donetsk Oblast that has been under heavy Russian bombardment since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24.

Basurin said they have already started their operation at the Azovstal plant, with Russian forces providing air and artillery support.

The territory of the Azovstal plant is the last holdout for the Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, as Russian forces accelerate their efforts to capture the city. The Mariupol City Council has previously said there are at least 1,000 people, including Ukrainian troops, on the grounds of the plant. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Monday that civilians, including women and children, are also sheltering there and she called for an “urgent humanitarian corridor” to allow them to evacuate.

The Ukrainian government did not immediately confirm Tuesday that Russian forces are storming the Azovstal plant.

Apr 19, 6:14 am
Ukraine says Russia is stepping up attacks in the east

Ukrainian military spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun said Tuesday that Russian forces are stepping up attacks in the east.

Russian forces are currently focused on breaking through Ukrainian defences in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, as well as establishing full control over the strategic port city of Mariupol, according to Shtupun.

In the south, Russian forces are focused on reaching the administrative border of the Kherson Oblast while continuing to shell the city of Mykolaiv, Shtupun said.

Meanwhile, Belarus continues to provide its territory to Russia for reconnaissance and launching air strikes against Ukraine. The Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Dnipro, Mykolaiv and Kherson were all shelled overnight, according to Shtupun.

Apr 19, 5:33 am
Russian military calls on Ukrainian troops in Mariupol to surrender

The Russian military is calling on Ukrainian troops in besieged Mariupol to surrender by midday on Tuesday.

Russian forces have been trying to seize the strategic port city in eastern Ukraine’s war-torn Donetsk Oblast since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24. The Russian Ministry of Defense said it is ready to declare a temporary ceasefire in Mariupol on Tuesday from 1:30 p.m. local time.

Ukrainian troops holed up on the grounds of the Azovstal iron and steelworks plant in Mariupol have until then to stop all fighting and lay down their arms, according to Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia’s National Defense Control Center. Moscow has proposed this plan “given the catastrophic situation in the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, as well as for purely humanitarian considerations,” Mizintsev said in a statement Tuesday.

“All those who will lay down arms are guaranteed that their lives will be spared,” he added. “The actual start of the temporary ceasefire shall be marked by both sides by raising flags — red flags by the Russian side and white flags by the Ukrainian side along the entire perimeter of Azovstal. Furthermore, their readiness to put the temporary ceasefire into effect shall be confirmed by the sides via all communication channels.”

According to Mizintsev, “absolutely all” Ukrainian troops and foreign mercenaries will be allowed to leave the plant without any weapons or ammunition from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. local time. Moscow guarantees to each Ukrainian soldier who surrenders that their life will be spared and their rights as prisoners of war will be respected, Mizintsev said.

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