LVIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian militants in tunnels under the Mariupol steel plant on Thursday faced Russian troops in an increasingly desperate and perhaps doomed effort to deny Moscow what would be its greatest success in the war: a complete capture of a strategic port.

The bloody battle comes amid growing speculation that President Vladimir Putin wants to give the Russian people a triumph on the battlefield – or declare an escalation of the war – in time Victory Day on Monday. Victory Day is the greatest patriotic holiday in the Russian calendar, marking the triumph of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany.

According to the latest estimates of Russia, there were about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters stuck in Mariupol stretched metallurgical plant “Azovstal”, the last source of resistance in the city over the past two months has largely turned into ruins.

It was believed that several hundred civilians were trapped there.

Defenders will “stand to the end. They only hope for a miracle, ”Ekaterina Prokopenko said after a telephone conversation with her husband, the leader of the defenders of the metallurgical plant. “They will not give up.”

She said her husband, Azov Regiment Commander Denis Prokopenko told her he would love her forever.

“I’m crazy about it. It seemed to be a farewell word, ”she said.

The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky stated that the attack hinders the evacuation of civilians who remain in the underground bunkers of the plant.

“Just imagine this hell! And there are children, ”he said late Thursday in his video. “More than two months of constant shelling, bombing, constant death.”

The Russians managed to get inside with the help of an electrician who knew the scheme, said the adviser of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Anton Gerashchenko.

“He showed them the underground tunnels leading to the plant,” Gerashchenko said in a video released late Wednesday.

“Yesterday, the Russians began storming these tunnels, using information they received from the traitor.”

The Kremlin has denied that its troops stormed the plant.

The fall of Mariupol will deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to build a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula it seized in Ukraine in 2014, and free troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas, an eastern industrial region where the Kremlin says its main goal now .

Deputy Commander of the Azov Regiment Captain Svyatoslav Palamar asked on Ukrainian television to evacuate civilians and wounded soldiers from the metallurgical plant, saying that soldiers “die in agony due to lack of proper treatment.”

The Kremlin demanded capitulation from the troops. They refused. Russia has also accused them of not allowing civilians.

The head of the United Nations said that another attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and the plant was underway. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “We must continue to do everything possible to bring people out of these hellish landscapes.”

More than 100 civilians were rescued from the metallurgical plant over the weekend. But many previous attempts to open safe corridors from Mariupol failed, and Ukraine blamed the shelling and shelling of the Russians.

Meanwhile, 10 weeks after the devastating war, the Ukrainian military said it had recaptured some areas in the south and repulsed other attacks in the east, further thwarting Putin’s ambitions after his failed attempt to seize Kyiv. Ukrainian and Russian troops are fighting village after village.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Russian forces were only making “shock” progress in the Donbas.

The head of the British Armed Forces, Chief of Defense Adm. Tony Radakin said Putin was “trying to rush to a tactical victory” before Victory Day. But he said Russian forces were gaining momentum.

Radakin told Britain’s Talk TV that Russia was using missiles and weapons at such a rate that it was in a “logistics war” to support supplies. “It’s going to be a tough move,” he said.

The United States has provided a “range of intelligence” that includes the location of warships, said an official who was not allowed to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said that the decision to target the missile cruiser “Moscow” was exclusively Ukrainian.

Fearing new attacks around Victory Day, the mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk urged residents to go to the countryside for the long weekend and warned them not to gather in public.

And the city of Zaporozhye in the southeast, a key crossing point for evacuees from Mariupol, announced a curfew from Sunday evening to Tuesday morning.

Lukashenko, whose country was used by the Russians as a launching pad for the invasion, said Moscow should act because Kyiv was “provoking” Russia.

But he has also created some distance between himself and the Kremlin, repeatedly calling for an end to the conflict and calling it “war,” a term Moscow refuses to use. He insists on calling the fighting a “special military operation.”

The siege of the city captured about 100,000 civilians who had little food, water, medicine and heat.

As the battle unfolded, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Kanashenko said that on Thursday Russian bombing affected dozens of Ukrainian military facilities, including a concentration of troops in the east, an artillery battery near the eastern settlement of Zarozhnoye. installation near the southern city of Nikolaev.

As a result of shelling of cities in the Donbass over the past day, five people were killed and dozens injured, according to Ukrainian officials, while the shells hit schools, apartments and medical facilities.

Ukrainian forces said they had made some progress on the border of the southern districts of Kherson and Mykolaiv and repulsed 11 Russian attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Donbass.

The Washington Institute for the Study of War said Ukrainian forces had “largely halted Russia’s advance in eastern Ukraine,” and the intensification of Russian air strikes on transport infrastructure in the western part of the country failed to stop Western aid supplies to Ukraine.

But the war has destroyed the country’s medical infrastructure, Zelensky said in a video link to a charity event in Britain that damaged or destroyed nearly 400 medical facilities.

“In the areas occupied by Russian troops, there is a catastrophic situation with access to medical services and medicines,” he said. “Not even the simplest drugs are missing.”

Bearing in mind the problem of demining and post-war reconstruction, Zelensky announced the launch of a global fundraising platform called United24.

At the same time, an international donor conference was held in Poland, which raised $ 6.5 billion in humanitarian aid. The event was attended by prime ministers and ambassadors of many European countries, as well as representatives of remote countries and some companies.

In addition, the Ukrainian cabinet began developing proposals for a comprehensive post-war recovery plan, while Zelensky also called on Western allies to put forward a program similar to the Marshall Plan after World War II to help Ukraine rebuild.

Anna reported from the Ukrainian Zaporozhye. Associated Press journalists Esica Fish in Zaporizhia, Inna Varenitsa and David Keitan in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanov in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita Baldor in Washington and AP staff around the world.

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