Ukraine war: Zelensky denies claims that Mariupol has fallen as last stand continues
Kyiv, Ukraine - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky contradicted claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the besieged port city of Mariupol had finally fallen to the Russian forces on Thursday.
Putin appeared on Russian state television with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to announce that he was rescinding the order to storm Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant, where the remaining Ukrainian forces in the city are surrounded, adding that he now planned to seal the plant "so that not even a fly can get in or out."
Putin also repeated his demand that the encircled Ukrainian fighters in the city lay down their weapons and surrender if they wanted to escape with their lives.
The city continues to resist the Russians, Zelensky said in his nightly video message. "Despite what the occupiers say about them."
He had earlier said that Mariupol was not yet a totally lost cause.
"The situation is difficult, the situation is bad," Zelensky told journalists in Kyiv on Thursday, but there were several ways to liberate the city still remaining.
"There is a military way to prepare for, and we are preparing for it," Zelensky said. For this, he said, help from the West was needed.
Another solution would be a diplomatic and humanitarian one, Zelensky said, listing several variants Kyiv had already proposed to Moscow, including an exchange of "the wounded for the wounded." Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk, however, said the two sides were again unable to on a humanitarian corridor.
"There are over 400 wounded in that citadel. These are just the soldiers." There were also injured civilians, he said. "Decisive days are ahead of us, the decisive battle for our state, for our country, for the Ukrainian Donbass," Zelensky stressed.
He also noted that Russia had rejected a proposal for a ceasefire over the Orthodox Easter holidays.
As well as Ukrainian fighters, there are believed to be some 1,000 civilians trapped inside the Azovstal steel plant.
More horrors discovered
In the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, Russian troops occupied 42 towns within 24 hours, Olena Simonenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office, told Ukrainian national television.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who made a visit to Kyiv on Thursday alongside Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, expressed his shock after seeing first hand the situation in Borodyanka – the Kyiv suburb site of alleged Russian war crimes.
"It is distressing to see the horrors and atrocities of Putin's war on the streets of Borodyanka. We will not abandon the Ukrainian people," Sánchez tweeted. Sánchez and Frederiksen later met Zelensky.
Two further mass graves had been discovered in Borodyanka shortly before the two leaders visited, according to Ukrainian sources, with some of the victims apparently showing signs of torture.
Russia has refocused its offensive on eastern Ukraine's Donbass region after withdrawing from areas around the capital Kyiv.
US President Joe Biden called the battle for the capital "a historic victory for the Ukrainians. It was a victory for freedom won by the Ukrainian people with unprecedented assistance by the United States and our Allies and partners."
Britain's Ministry of Defense said that more Russian troops are advancing toward the eastern city of Kramatorsk, which has been under persistent attack and is seen as a major target in Moscow's objective of capturing the Donbass.
The governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said on social media that all remaining food stores in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk had been destroyed by Russian attacks.
In Kharkiv, at least two high-rise buildings in the north-eastern district of Saltivka and several parked cars caught fire after explosions, the Ukrainian news portal Ukrainskaya Pravda reported.
The Russian armed forces said they had captured the small eastern town of Kreminna, which had once been firmly in Ukrainian control.
Cover photo: REUTERS