Source: Oleksandr Kozhukhar

(Reuters) – More than 1,000 Ukrainian marines have surrendered in the besieged port of Mariupol, Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday of Moscow’s main target in the eastern Donbas region which it has yet to bring under its control.

If the Russians take the Azovstal industrial district, where the marines have been holed up, they would be in full control of Mariupol, which would allow Russia to reinforce a land corridor between separatist-held eastern areas and the Crimea region that it seized and annexed in 2014. read more

Surrounded by Russian troops for weeks, Mariupol would be the first major city to fall since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, with the battle for the industrial heartland of Donbas likely to define the course of the war. read more

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Ukraine’s general staff said that Russian forces were proceeding with attacks on Azovstal and the port, but a defence ministry spokesman said he had no information about any surrender. read more

Reuters journalists accompanying Russian-backed separatists saw flames billowing from the Azovstal district on Tuesday.

On Monday, the 36th Marine Brigade said it was preparing for a final battle in Mariupol that would end in death or capture as its troops had run out of ammunition.

Thousands of people are believed to have been killed in Mariupol and Russia has been massing thousands of troops in the area for a new assault, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

Ukraine says tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped inside the city with no way to bring in food or water, and accuses Russia of blocking aid convoys.

Russia’s defence ministry said that 1,026 soldiers of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade surrendered, including 162 officers.

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Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ardent supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, urged remaining Ukrainians holed up in Azovstal to surrender.

“Within Azovstal at the moment there are about 200 wounded who cannot receive any medical assistance,” Kadyrov said in a Telegram post. “For them and all the rest it would be better to end this pointless resistance and go home to their families.”

Russian television showed pictures of what it said were marines giving themselves up at Illich Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol on Tuesday, many of them wounded.

It showed what it said were Ukrainian soldiers being marched down a road with their hands in the air. One of the soldiers was shown holding a Ukrainian passport.

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar has said there was a high risk of Russia using chemical weapons, echoing earlier warnings by Zelenskiy, who on Wednesday told the Estonian parliament by videolink Russia was using phosphorus bombs to terrorise civilians. read more

He did not provide evidence and Reuters has not been able to independently verify his assertion.