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Most Russian forces leave Mariupol but fighting at steel mill continues, Pentagon says: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

All but about 2,000 Russian troops that had been around Mariupol have left and headed north, the Pentagon said Thursday, as intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces continued in the battle for the besieged city’s sprawling steel mill.

Russian airstrikes have bombarded Mariupol, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Thursday, but Putin’s forces have only made incremental progress in the eastern Donbas region where most of the Russian offensive has moved.

Almost 500 additional civilians were also evacuated from the city’s steel plant in the latest humanitarian operation, said Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office.

The bombardment of the Azovstal steel plant comes amid speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to tout a major victory in Ukraine on May 9, Russia’s Victory Day. Monday will mark the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the attack was preventing the evacuation of civilians remaining in the plant’s underground bunkers.

“Just imagine this hell! And there are children there,” Zelenskyy said late Thursday in his nightly video address. “More than two months of constant shelling, bombing, constant death.”

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Latest developments:

►The European Union is planning to add Alina Kabaeva, a woman romantically linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church to its sanctions list, CNN and the Guardian reported.

►First lady Jill Biden will be in Romania on Friday to begin her solo trip to Europe. She plans to meet with refugees Sunday in a small Slovakian village on the border with Ukraine.

►Germany will provide Ukraine with seven powerful self-propelled howitzers as the country steps up its aid of heavy weaponry, the German defense minister said Friday.

►Targeting data provided by the U.S. helped Ukrainian forces sink the Moskva, flagship of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea last month, NBC News reported Thursday, citing unnamed U.S. officials. 

►Russia’s military has fired 2,014 missiles on Ukraine and 2,682 flights of Russian warplanes have been recorded in Ukrainian skies, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Ukraine repels Russian attacks in Donbas, begins counteroffensive in Kharkiv, Izyum

Ukrainian forces have repelled at least 11 attacks in the Donbas region, destroying Russian tanks and vehicles in the process, the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said in a statement Friday. 

Fighting continues in the region, and Russian forces are aiming to take full control of Popasna and resume offensives in Lyman and Siversk, the Ukrainian military said.

However, Ukrainian defense chief Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi on Thursday announced a planned counteroffensive to repel Russians from Kharkiv and Izyum. Ukrainian troops have already pushed Russian forces east from Kharkiv in recent days.

Hungary’s prime minister Orban rejects EU’s Russian oil ban

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday decried the European Union’s proposed ban on Russian oil, comparing the move to dropping an “atomic bomb” on Hungary’s economy.

Orban said his country was willing to negotiate on the latest round of economic sanctions against Russia, but including an embargo on Russian oil could not be accepted.

Hungary relies heavily on Russia for its energy, with about 85% of gas and 60% of oil coming from Russia. Switching to other sources of oil would be too burdensome on Hungary’s economy, Orban said.

“We cannot accept a proposal that ignores this circumstance because in its current form it is equivalent to an atomic bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy,” he added. 

Former President George W. Bush speaks to Zelenskyy

Former President George W. Bush said he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday, calling him “the Winston Churchill of our time.”

“I thanked the President for his leadership, his example, and his commitment to liberty, and I saluted the courage of the Ukrainian people,” Bush said in a Twitter post, which included photos of the two men speaking by video link.

“President Zelenskyy assured me that they will not waver in their fight against Putin’s barbarism and thuggery. Americans are inspired by their fortitude and resilience. We will continue to stand with Ukrainians as they stand up for their freedom.”

Contributing: The Associated Press