Ramzan Kadyrov has issued a chilling warning as civilians shelter for their lives (Picture: EPA/Reuters)
Having been reduced to a wasteland by Russian forces, the besieged city of Mariupol will fall ‘by lunchtime today’, a top Vladimir Putin ally has said.
Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov gave the chilling warning as invading troops close in on the city’s last stronghold.
All that’s left is the Azovstal steel plant, where Ukrainian fighters are holed up after ignoring an ultimatum to surrender.
Fears have been raised over what will happen to the estimated 1,000 civilians sheltering at the site when Russian forces to eventually break through.
‘Before lunchtime, or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the forces of the Russian Federation,’ Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s republic of Chechnya said.
A Ukrainian posted a video plea on Facebook urging world leaders to help evacuate people from the plant.
He said: ‘We have more than 500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians with us, including women and children.’
Mariupol – once a bustling city of 400,000 people – has been reduced to rubble (Picture: Reuters)
The southern port city has faced relentless shelling for several weeks (Picture: Reuters)
The officer, who identified himself as Serhiy Volynskyy of the 36th Marine Brigade, said: ‘This may be our last appeal. We may have only a few days or hours left.’
Ukraine has offered to hold last ditch negotiations to get civilians and troops out of the southern port city.
It has tried to get Russia to agree on humanitarian corridors to evacuate the 120,000 people still believed to be in the city, which has faced a medieval style siege.
Previous attempts to do this soon collapsed, as Russia was accused of firing shells after civilians were guaranteed ‘safe passage’.
Ukraine accused Moscow of failing to observe a local ceasefire agreement long enough to allow large numbers of women, children and elderly people to flee yesterday.
Ramzan Kadyrov proudly displays his shooting skills at a firing range in his village of Tsentoroi, Chechnya, in front of his pro-Putin private army (Picture: Getty Images)
An estimated 120,000 civilians are still thought to be taking shelter in Mariupol (Picture: Reuters)
There were hopes they would be able to use 90 buses to evacuate about 6,000 of the city’s civilians.
But regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said fewer buses than planned were able to reach Mariupol and fewer people than hoped were evacuated.
Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the humanitarian corridor ‘did not work as planned today’.
Speaking after talks with European Council president Charles Michel, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: ‘Behind the backs of our guys in Mariupol there are around a thousand civilians, including women and children.’
He accused Russia of stonewalling pleas to allow the safe exit of civilians, adding: ‘We are open to different formats of exchange of our people for Russian people, Russian military that they have left behind.’
A girl and her dog wait before boarding a bus to leave the city (Picture: Reuters)
Ukraine has accused Russia of stonewalling pleas to allow the safe exit of civilians (Picture: Reuters)
Mariupol stands between pro-Russian troops in the Donbas region and reinforcements in the annexed Crimean peninsula.
Despite Putin’s invasion faltering more than expected, capturing the city would be a strategic victory, as it would create a land bridge between the two territories.
Having failed to take Kyiv, Russian troops have regrouped in Ukraine’s eastern region for what the Kremlin describes as ‘liberation’.
However, despite soldiers pulling back, Putin’s forces continue to drop bombs on the Ukrainian capital and western cities including Lviv.
Pro-Moscow proxies have held parts of the eastern Donbas region – including Donetsk and Luhansk – since 2014 but the land they control does not cover all of the historic territory.
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