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‘Heavy, bloody battles’ as Russian troops break into steel plant; 600 reportedly died in Mariupol theater bombing: Live updates – USA TODAY

The sprawling steel plant that has exemplified Ukraine’s resolve as its final holdout in the embattled city of Mariupol appears in danger of falling to Russian troops.

The commander of the main defending force at the Azovstal steel mill said the Russians have broken into the mill’s compound, where limited evacuations of besieged civilians took place over the weekend. The steelworks has been under heavy aerial bombardment and shelling that halted the evacuations.

Russian incursions have occurred for two days and “there are heavy, bloody battles,” Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, said in a video posted Wednesday after the Kremlin denied its forces were trying to storm the plant.

The Kyiv Independent — an English-language Ukrainian newspaper — reported the Russians broke in. Russian state TV showed smoke rising over Azovstal.

Smoke rises above the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol on April 29, 2022, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine. The mayor of the destroyed Ukrainian city of Mariupol said Wednesday that contact was lost with Ukrainian forces holed up in the steel mill amid fierce battles with Russian troops. - *EDITOR'S NOTE: This picture was taken during a media trip organized by the Russian army. (Photo by Andrey BORODULIN / AFP) (Photo by ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP via Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 0 ORIG FILE ID: AFP_329G2W6.jpg

Perhaps as many as 2,000 Ukrainian fighters as well as a few hundred civilians remain in the plant’s underground shelters. The Russian government said it would facilitate humanitarian corridors from Thursday through Saturday to enable more evacuations, though there was no confirmation of the arrangement and previous assurances have fallen through.

The prospects for such an operation are uncertain, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that 344 residents of Mariupol and its surroundings have reached Ukrainian-held Zaporizhzhia, in addition to the more than 150 who were evacuated earlier in the week from Azovstal.

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Latest developments:

►White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that by the Russians’ definition, they have already lost the war. “They have not taken over Ukraine,” she said. “President Putin is not going to be marching down the streets of Kyiv. They will not own the territorial integrity and sovereignty of this country. They have not divided NATO.”

►Britain announced additional sanctions against Russia, banning the country from doing business with management consultants, accounting and public relations firms in the U.K. Asset freezes and travel bans were imposed on Russian journalists working for state-owned media the U.K. accuses of spreading propaganda.

►The Russian military said Wednesday it used missiles to destroy electric power facilities at five railway stations across Ukraine. Artillery and aircraft also struck troop strongholds and fuel and ammunition depots, the Kremlin said. 

►Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed as “nonsense” media reports that President Vladimir Putin might formally declare war May 9, when Russia celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, and announce a broader mobilization.

►The U.K. is sending a military support package worth almost $400 million to Ukraine. The package will include electronic warfare equipment, a radar system, GPS jamming equipment, heavy-lift supply drones and night-vision devices.

AP: Almost 600 civilians died in theater bombing

Evidence suggests close to 600 civilians died in the Russian airstrike on the Mariupol drama theater on March 16 that horrified the world and helped galvanize support for Ukraine’s effort to repel the invasion, according to an Associated Press investigation.

The theater had been used as a bomb shelter in the early days of Russia’s siege of the port city and had large warnings visible from the sky reading “children” in Russian.

AP’s death total is twice the city government’s estimate and marks the deadliest single known attack against civilians in the war. AP said its journalists drew on accounts of 23 survivors, rescuers and people intimately familiar with the shelter operating at the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater. It also used two sets of floor plans of the theater, photos and video taken inside before, during and after that day.

Most witnesses said around 1,000 people were in the theater at the time of the assault.

Dozens of nations have provided military and/or humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The U.S. has committed $3.7 billion in weapons and other aid and President Joe Biden is seeking an additional $33 billion from Congress.

Zelenskyy warning to those who trust Russia: ‘One day you wake up to find a rocket is flying toward you’

Ukraine has stopped Russia’s military advance and will not sign a peace deal that would allow Russian troops to remain in the country, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says.

Zelenskyy, speaking remotely to the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in London, said that in some areas his troops are pushing forward and in others they are holding firm while awaiting military equipment needed to press ahead.

“We are gaining ground and we are pushing away the Russian army,” he said. “Therefore, not a single step back.”

The Ukrainian leader said he wants to drive Russian forces back to their positions before the Feb. 24 invasion and then wants to use peace talks to regain control over the Crimean Peninsula that Russia seized in 2014. Zelenskyy insisted that “we will not accept a frozen conflict” that may allow Russian forces to stay in occupied Ukrainian territory.

Zelenskyy warned executives at the summit that Russia can’t be trusted by businesses since it can’t be trusted by other countries. 

“It seems to you that you have a business with Russia … a profitable business,” he said. “But one day you wake up to find a rocket is flying toward you from Russia, and everything changes. It’s not possible to do business with someone who tomorrow, instead of payment, will simply send rockets toward you.”

Biden consulting with G7 on new sanctions as EU proposes ban on Russian oil

President Joe Biden is consulting with other nations about additional sanctions on Russia, he told reporters Wednesday.

“We’re always open to additional sanctions,” Biden said. “I’ll be speaking with members of the G7 this week about what we’re going to do or not do.”

The European Union’s top official on Wednesday proposed a phase-out of oil imports from Russia while also targeting the country’s biggest bank and major broadcasters. The sanctions would have to be approved by all 27 member countries.

This sixth package of penalties has already drawn dissent from Hungary and Slovakia, but they are likely to be granted exemptions from the oil ban, which might pave the way for the necessary unanimous approval. Russia provides the EU with about 25% of its oil, and fierce debate in expected across many countries.

“We now propose a ban on Russian oil. Let´s be clear: It will not be easy,” said EU President Ursula von der Leyen. “But we simply have to work on it. We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion to maximize pressure on Russia while minimizing the impact on our economies.”

— Maureen Groppe

US about to seize Russian oligarch’s yacht, but another one linked to Putin may escape

The U.S. has received permission to seize a $325 million superyacht owned by a Russian oligarch, but a bigger prize may prove more elusive.

A judge in Fiji has ruled American authorities can appropriate the luxury vessel Amadea, which was kept from leaving the South Pacific nation because of its links to Russia and possibly an owner who may be under sanction. The court’s order was stayed until at least Friday while defense lawyers mount a challenge.

By that point, another mega-yacht the U.S. government wants captured may have sailed away. U.S. officials believe the $700 million Scheherazade, which has been on dry dock at the Italian port of Marina di Carrara for months, is linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the New York Times reported.

American authorities believe the $700 million mega-yacht Scheherazade, docked at the Tuscan port of Marina di Carrara in Italy, is linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The newspaper said that while Italian police investigate the yacht’s ownership, its crew has been preparing to leave port and conducting sea trials. A police spokeswoman told the Times that the authorities would be unable to stop the ship if it departs before the investigation is concluded.

Pentagon warns that Russia’s military will learn from tactical errors

Top Pentagon leaders warned Congress that Russia’s military is learning from its mistakes as the war shifts into a new phase, which will affect how the U.S. supports Ukraine. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday that Ukrainian forces will need more tanks and mechanized vehicles as fighting tightens in on the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.

Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told senators that Russia failed to train young commanders, which led to a top-heavy organization that hasn’t been as effective as Ukraine’s forces.

But Austin said, “They will learn from what they did in the early stages of this fight. And we’ll see them improve their logistical efforts. And we’ll see them improve their massing of fires and that sort of business. But some things they won’t be able to correct.”

Ukrainian refugees wait in Mexico City, hoping for US entry

Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees have fled to Mexico’s capital in hopes of entering the United States next. About 500 Ukrainians were waiting in a Mexico City refugee camp Tuesday, with 50 to 100 more arriving each day. The camp, set up with large tents across a dusty field, has only been open a week.

Over 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded. The U.S. in March pledged to accept 100,000 Ukrainians and individuals who have been displaced due to the war, and the Biden administration extended the eligibility for Ukrainians for temporary protected status in mid-April, which allows them to stay in the U.S. for 18 months and apply for work permits. On April 21, President Joe Biden announced a new program to streamline the process for Ukrainian refugees to enter the U.S.

Giorgi Mikaberidze, 19, arrived in Tijuana on April 25 but found the U.S. border closed. He went from being just yards from the United States to some 600 miles away in the Mexico City area. He said he traveled to Mexico alone.

“It’s very difficult to wait,” he said. “We don’t know how the program will work.”

Contributing: Joey Garrison, USA TODAY; The Associated Press