Russian forces on Saturday resumed attacks on a steel plant sheltering an estimated 1,000 citizens and the last remaining Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said.
The move marks an apparent departure from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order earlier in the week not to attack the Ukrainian holdout in the strategic port city, but to instead block off the facility from supplies to force the Ukrainians to surrender.
Oleksiy Arestovich, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a briefing that Russian forces had targeted the Azovstal steel plant in air strikes and were attempting to storm it.
On Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Mr. Putin that Russian forces had “liberated” Mariupol except for the steel plant.
Ukrainian officials say approximately 2,000 troops remain in the sprawling facility along with the civilians, and Mr. Arestovich said the troops were attempting to counter Russia’s attacks.
In videos released Saturday by the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard, some civilians said they had been holed up in the network of underground tunnels beneath the facility for months.
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An estimated 100,000 people remain in the besieged city of Mariupol, which has come under intense fighting since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Local officials have accused Russian forces of burying thousands of civilians killed during the war to conceal the brutality of their assault after satellite images released this week revealed apparent mass graves near the city.
Several attempts to evacuate stranded citizens running low on food and water have failed. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuck said on Saturday that another evacuation attempt would be made midday Saturday.
– This story includes wire reporting