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Putin claims victory in Mariupol, but thousands of Ukrainians remain in steel mill: Live updates – USA TODAY

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed his troops were victorious in the battle for Mariupol, despite the fact that thousands of Ukrainian troops remain in the giant Azovstal steel mill complex.

Putin ordered his troops not to storm the stronghold but to seal it off “so that not even a fly comes through.”

Russia has ceaselessly bombarded the port city for almost two months and appears to control most of the city. But a few thousand Ukrainian troops, by Moscow’s estimate, have stubbornly held out for weeks at the steel plant.

Ukrainian officials also said about 1,000 civilians are also trapped there. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk on Friday called for Russia to open up humanitarian corridors for civilians in the plant to evacuate.

U.S. President Joe Biden pushed back on Putin’s claims that Mariupol had fallen to Russia. “It’s questionable whether he does control Mariupol,” Biden said. “There’s no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen.”

RUSSIA’S ARSENAL: What weapons are being used in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? 

USA TODAY ON TELEGRAM:Join our new Russia-Ukraine war channel

Latest developments:

►Satellite images showed what appeared to be mass graves near Mariupol, and the city’s mayor said Russian troops have buried as many as 9,000 civilians killed in the conflict in a nearby mass grave in order to cover up “military crimes.”

►The U.N.’s human rights office said Friday its investigators had documented at least 50 civilian deaths, including by summary execution, in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.

►The U.K. plans to reopen its embassy in Kyiv next week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday.

►In his nightly address Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia had rejected a proposal for a truce during the Orthodox Easter holiday.

►U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III will travel to Germany next week to meet with a handful of nations to discuss the current and future defense needs of Ukraine, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said. 

Russian official: Control of eastern Ukraine will allow ‘influence’ over economy

A Russian military official on Friday laid out wider aims in the country’s new phase of the war in eastern Ukraine, saying Russia was seeking full control of the Donbas and southern Ukraine.

That control “will provide a land corridor to Crimea, as well as influence (over) the vital objects of the Ukrainian economy,” said Rustam Minnekayev, acting commander of Russia’s Central Military District.

Minnekayev made the comments at a defense industry event, where he acknowledged the second phase of the war started “just two days ago.”

NEW PHASE OF WAR: As Russia escalates attacks, what a new phase of war means for Ukrainians in the east

UN chief: International humanitarian law ‘seemingly tossed aside’ in Ukraine

The head of the United Nation’s human rights office on Friday said international humanitarian law appears to have been “tossed aside” during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Russian armed forces have indiscriminately shelled and bombed populated areas, killing civilians and wrecking hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure — actions that may amount to war crimes,” the U.N. human rights office said in a statement.

The office said it has verified at least 2,345 civilian deaths and 2,919 injuries since the invasion began Feb. 24. More than 92% of those were recorded in Ukrainian government-controlled territory, it added.

“Over these eight weeks, international humanitarian law has not merely been ignored but seemingly tossed aside,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Biden outlines new $800M military aid package for Ukraine

President Joe Biden announced additional military aid for Ukraine on Thursday totaling about $800 million, matching the same amount designated last week as Russia concentrates withering attacks on the eastern region of Donbas. 

The U.S. military aid to Ukraine includes 72 155mm howitzers, 72 trucks to tow them and 144,000 artillery rounds, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. The howitzers will outfit five Ukrainian artillery battalions specifically for fighting in the Donbas, Kirby said.

Also included are 121 Phoenix Ghost drones developed by the U.S. Air Force specifically for the Ukrainians, Kirby said. The drones have abilities to the Switchblade kamikaze drones, which are single-use, armed drones that fit in a backpack. They are designed with cameras, guidance systems and abort systems.

Biden said not all the U.S. assistance is being advertised. “Sometimes we will speak softly and carry a large Javelin, because we’re sending a lot of those in as well,” Biden said, taking about surface-to-air Javelin missiles and playing off a famous line from President Theodore Roosevelt.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the United States for the new package, which he said was “just what we were waiting for.”

— Joey Garrison and Tom Vanden Brook

Russia says it’s gained access to Ukrainian Secret Service staff data

A Russian state media reported Thursday that Russian security forces have received full information about all of Ukraine’s Secret Service Staff in the Kherson region.

The state-run media outlet listed the names, photos, and birth years of who it said were 14 employees of the Ukrainian Secret Service in the Kherson region, which is currently under Russian control

The Russian-controlled news source said the Ukrainian service members aimed to “sabotage in the territories liberated by the Russian army.”

Many media outlets in Russia are state-controlled: any journalists or citizens who publish information running counter to Putin’s narrative of the war face up to 15 years in prison under Russian law.

—Celina Tebor

Contributing: The Associated Press