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Russia hits Ukrainian cities, pours more troops into war

KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Russia hurled its military might against Ukrainian cities and towns and poured more troops into the war, seeking to slice the country in two in a potentially pivotal battle for control of the eastern industrial heartland of coal mines and factories.

The fighting unfolded along a boomerang-shaped front hundreds of miles long in what is known as the Donbas. If successful, it would give President Vladimir Putin a victory following the failed attempt by Moscow’s forces to storm the capital, Kyiv, and heavier-than-expected casualties.

In Mariupol, the devastated port city in the Donbas, Ukrainian troops said the Russian military dropped heavy bombs to flatten what was left of a sprawling steel plant – believed to be the defenders’ last holdout – and hit a hospital where hundreds were staying.

The Ukrainian General Staff said yesterday that Russia was continuing to mount offensives at various locations in the east as its forces probe for weak points in the Ukrainian lines. The General Staff said in a statement that defeating the last resistance in the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol remains Russia’s top priority.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that there was a “preliminary” agreement to open a humanitarian corridor for women, children and the elderly to leave Mariupol west to the Ukraine-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia yesterday afternoon.

She said on the the messaging app Telegram that civilians in Mariupol were facing a “catastrophic humanitarian situation”.

Vereshchuk previously said no agreement had been reached with Russia on an evacuation route on each of the past three days. There was no immediate confirmation from the Russian side, which issued a new ultimatum to the Ukrainian defenders to surrender yesterday after a previous ultimatum was ignored.

Members of security forces help an injured man following a Russian bombing of a factory in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine. PHOTO: AP