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Russian forces enter Azovstal steel plant for first time

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The Ukrainian commander leading troops entrenched in a steel plant in Mariupol has said that “difficult, bloody battles” are being fought

Ukrainian forces said they have repelled Russian attacks in the east and recaptured some territory, even as Russia moved to obstruct the flow of western weapons to Ukraine by targeting railway stations and other supply-line targets across the country.

Heavy fighting also raged at the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol that represented the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the ruined southern port city, the Ukrainian military reported.

A Russian official earlier denied that troops were storming the plant, but the commander of the main Ukrainian unit inside said Russia’s soldiers had pushed into the mill’s territory.

“With the support of aircraft, the enemy resumed the offensive in order to take control of the plant,” the General Staff in Kyiv said, adding that the Russians were “trying to destroy Ukrainian units”.

To the west of Mariupol, Ukrainian forces made some gains on the border of the southern regions of Kherson and Mykolaiv, where Russian troops were reportedly trying to launch a counter-offensive, and repelled 11 Russian attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the military said.

Five people were killed and at least 25 wounded in shelling of several eastern cities over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said.

Battle rages at Mariupol steel plant

Ukraine’s military said it has recaptured areas in the south and repelled Russian attacks in the east as a battle rages at a steel mill in Mariupol – where Ukrainian troops are holed up in tunnels and bunkers fending off a Russian onslaught.

Ukrainian fighters have held out at the sprawling Azovstal steel mill — the last pocket of resistance in a city that is otherwise controlled by Moscow’s forces.

“With the support of aircraft, the enemy resumed the offensive in order to take control of the plant,” the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said on Thursday.

Video posted on social media on Wednesday night showed Russian air strikes on the steel plant.

Ursula von der Leyen: ‘We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion’

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said ending the EU’s dependency on Russian oil “will not be easy but we simply have to do it”.

This will be a complete import ban on all Russian oil, seaborne and pipeline, crude and refined.

We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimises the impact on global markets.

Mariupol evacuees ‘spoke of the hell they have experienced’

Osnat Lubrani, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Ukraine, said evacuees from the besieged city of Mariupol have spoken of the “hell” they have experienced in the city.

Over the past days, travelling with the evacuees, I have heard mothers, children and frail grandparents speak about the trauma of living day after day under unrelenting heavy shelling and the fear of death, and with extreme lack of water, food and sanitation.

They spoke of the hell they have experienced since this war started, seeking refuge in the Azovstal plant, many being separated from family members whose fate they still don’t know.

PM: threat or attack on British diplomats in Ukraine is ‘totally beyond the pale’

Boris Johnson has said any threat or attack on British diplomats in Ukraine is “totally beyond the pale”.

Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain about the UK’s ambassador, the Prime Minister said: “I’m proud of our diplomats in Ukraine and Melinda Simmons, who is going back to open the embassy and she has done an amazing job.”

Mr Johnson added that threats toward British diplomats are “totally beyond the pale” and that there is “no justification for it”.

He said the UK has “led the world in helping the Ukrainians to protect themselves against wanton aggression, barbaric aggression” and later added that the UK has also “marshalled the world in delivering a very tough package of economic sanctions”.

“We are not saying we are doing this to drive some geopolitical change or have some outcome in Moscow,” he said.

“What we care about is Ukrainian people and their suffering. It is totally unjustifiable to have a free country like Ukraine to be overwhelmed and obliterated like it has been.”

PM: ‘This is Ukraine’s finest hour, an epic chapter in your national story’

Boris Johnson will address the Kyiv parliament today where he is expected to say:

“When my country faced the threat of invasion during the Second World War, our Parliament, like yours, continued to meet throughout the conflict, and the British people showed such unity and resolve that we remember our time of greatest peril as our finest hour.

“This is Ukraine’s finest hour, an epic chapter in your national story that will be remembered and recounted for generations to come.

“Your children and grandchildren will say that Ukrainians taught the world that the brute force of an aggressor counts for nothing against the moral force of a people determined to be free.”

Russian football teams further banned from UEFA competitions

Russian football clubs and the national team have been hit with more sanctions from footballing body UEFA.

The country will be barred from competing in this summer’s women’s Euro 2022 tournament as the Ukrainian invasion continues.

Teams at club level will also continue to be barred from UEFA competitions next season, after they were removed from this year’s ongoing competitions “until further notice”.

UEFA has also confirmed that Russia’s bids to host the men’s Euro 2028 or 2032 tournaments are now ineligible.

Lavrov’s Hitler comments branded ‘unforgivable’ by Israel

Israel has hit out at Russia over “unforgivable” comments by its foreign minister about Nazism and antisemitism – including claims that Adolf Hitler was Jewish.

Israel, which summoned the Russian ambassador in response, said the remarks blamed Jews for their own murder in the Holocaust.

It marks a sharp decline in relations between the two countries at a time when Israel has sought to remain neutral between Russia and Ukraine due its security needs in the Middle East.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

What did Sergei Lavrov say?

Asked in an interview with an Italian news channel about Russian claims that it invaded Ukraine to “denazify” the country, Sergei Lavrov said that Ukraine could still have Nazi elements even if some figures, including the country’s president, were Jewish.

“So when they say ‘How can Nazification exist if we’re Jewish?’ In my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything. For some time we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest antisemites were Jewish,” he said, speaking to the station in Russian, dubbed over by an Italian translation.

The Israeli response

Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid called Mr Lavrov’s statement “unforgivable and scandalous and a horrible historical error”.

“The Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust,” Mr Lapid said. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to blame Jews themselves for antisemitism.”

More accounts from Mariupol evacuees

While official evacuations have often faltered, many people have managed to flee Mariupol under their own steam in recent weeks.

Others are unable to escape.

“People without cars cannot leave. They’re desperate,” said Olena Gibert, who was among those arriving at a UN-backed reception centre in Zaporizhzhia in dusty and often damaged private cars.

“You need to go get them. People have nothing. We had nothing.”

Mother and daughter Dina (R) and Natasha (L) from Mariupol react as they arrive in their own vehicle, separate from a larger convoy expected later, at a registration and processing area for internally displaced people arriving from Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia on May 2, 2022, on the 68th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. – Ukrainian authorities are planning to evacuate more civilians from Mariupol on May 2, 2022, after dozens were finally brought to safety following weeks trapped under heavy fire in the strategic port city’s Azovstal steel complex. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP)

Anastasiia Dembytska, who took advantage of the brief ceasefire around the evacuation of civilians from the steel plant to leave with her daughter, nephew and dog, told the Associated Press (AP) her family survived by cooking on a makeshift stove and drinking well water.

She said she could see the steel plant from her window, when she dared to look out.

“We could see the rockets flying” and clouds of smoke over the plant, she said.

Ukraine claims to have destroyed two Russian ships

A Ukrainian drone has destroyed two Russian patrol ships in the Black Sea, Ukraine’s military chief has said.

“Two Russian Raptor-class boats were destroyed at dawn today near Zmiinyi (Snake) Island,” Chief of General Staff Valeriy Zaluzhniy said.

The Ukrainian military released unverified drone footage which appears to show two ships being targeted by missiles from the air while on patrol.

One Mariupol evacuee’s account of ‘terror’

Some of those who made it out of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have been describing their experiences.

Natalia Usmanova, 37, spoke on Sunday after being evacuated from the sprawling plant and described the bombing: “I feared that the bunker would not withstand it – I had terrible fear.

“When the bunker started to shake, I was hysterical, my husband can vouch for that. I was so worried the bunker would cave in.”

Ms Usmanova recalled the lack of oxygen and the fear that had spread among the people sheltering down there.

“We didn’t see the sun for so long,” she added, speaking in the village of Bezimenne in an area of Donetsk under the control of Russia-backed separatists about 30km east of Mariupol.

“You just can’t imagine what we have been through – the terror,” she said. “I lived there, worked there all my life, but what we saw there was just terrible.”

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