Russia unleashes rockets in Mariupol, EU readies oil sanctions

LVIV: Russian forces fired rockets at an encircled steel works in Ukraine’s southern port city of Mariupol and thick smoke blackened the sky at the plant where officials on Tuesday (May 3) said 200 civilians were trapped despite evacuations. Russia’s offensive to capture the east and south after failing to take the capital of Kyiv has been met with commitments by Western powers to supply heavier weapons to Ukraine. On Tuesday, the European Commission is expected to finalise a ban on buying Russian oil in an effort to squeeze Moscow’s war chest.

The US Congress is considering a US£33 billion military aid package, and the United Kingdom this week vowed an additional £375 million in defence assistance. Reuters images showed volleys of rockets fired from a Russian truck-mounted launcher towards the sprawling Soviet-era steel complex from the outskirts of Russian-occupied Mariupol on Monday. The attack followed a UN-brokered ceasefire around the complex that allowed several groups of civilians to escape Mariupol’s last holdout of Ukrainian fighters in recent days.

It was not immediately clear if new fighting was preventing more evacuations. Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko said he hoped a first column of evacuees would reach the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday, adding that more civilians were trapped in bunkers and tunnels under the complex and about 100,000 remained in the rest of the city. “You wake up in the morning and you cry.

You cry in the evening. I don’t know where to go at all,” said Mariupol resident Tatyana Bushlanova, sitting by a blackened apartment block and talking over the sound of shells exploding nearby. Mariupol is a major target for Russia as it seeks to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea and connect Russian-controlled territory in the south and east.

Russian bombardments since troops invaded Ukraine on Feb 24 have flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee the country. The war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin has shifted to the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, parts of which were already held by Russian-backed separatists. Russia’s troops are trying to encircle a large Ukrainian force there, attacking from three directions with massive bombardment along the front.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression. Western allies of Ukraine have stepped up supplies of increasingly heavy weapons.

Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska asked the West to maintain its support. “We ask you not to stop, to accelerate the pace of heavy weapons provision,” she told British television, adding that she had not seen President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since the start of the invasion. Pope Francis said in an interview published on Tuesday that he had asked for a meeting in Moscow with Putin to try to stop the war but had not received a response.

French President Emmanuel Macron will speak with Putin on Tuesday, Macron’s office said.