Russian forces have resumed air strikes on and are trying to storm the Azovstal steel works where Ukraine’s remaining forces in Mariupol are holding out, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on Saturday.
“The enemy is trying to strangle the final resistance of the defenders of Mariupol in the Azovstal area,” Arestovych said on national television.
Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that “if all goes well” evacuation will begin at noon local time (10am BST).
“Today, we again will be trying to evacuate women, children and the elderly,” Vereshchuk wrote in a social media post.
Fears continue to grow for hundreds of civilians holed up in the Azovstal steel factory in the besieged port city of Mariupol, with the last remaining, outgunned contingent of Ukrainian fighters. Russia’s defence ministry said it was ready to allow civilians to leave the steelworks if Ukrainian forces surrendered. But according to Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, Russian forces are continuing to drop bombs on the plant.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called off a planned assault on the plant – something that was expected to be a bloody battle – and instead ordered a blockade of the complex.
“There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,” he said in televised comments.
“Block off this industrial area so that a fly cannot pass through.”