Ukraine war: Russia will capture Mariupol on Thursday, says top Putin ally

Ukrainian fighter trapped in Azovstal steel plant warns international community: 'We may only have days left'

Has Mariupol fallen? Here's what all sides have to say

Has Mariupol fallen? Here's what all sides have to say
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A top ally of President Vladimir Putin said Russian forces will seize the Azovstal steel plant, the last major stronghold of resistance in Mariupol, on Thursday.

It comes after Ukraine proposed talks on freeing troops and civilians in the besieged city.

Mariupol would be the biggest city to be seized since Russia invaded Ukraine eight weeks ago as more than five million people have fled the country.

"Before lunchtime, or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the forces of the Russian Federation," said Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia's republic of Chechnya, whose forces have been fighting in Ukraine.

It comes after a Ukrainian fighter who was trapped in the steel plant issued a video plea, saying: "We may only have days left".

Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine's 36th marine brigade, which is still fighting in Mariupol, urged the international community to help evacuate wounded Ukrainian fighters and their families.

In a video posted online, the Ukrainian marine commander said his troops may be able to hold out for only a few hours longer as Ukraine tried to evacuate 6,000 women, children and elderly people on Wednesday.

Ukrainian marine says 'maybe facing our last days, if not hours'

Ukrainian marine says 'maybe facing our last days, if not hours'

"This is our appeal to the world. It may be our last. We may have only a few days or hours left," said the fighter, who wore a camouflage jacket. "The enemy units are dozens of times larger than ours, they have dominance in the air, in artillery, in ground troops, in equipment and in tanks."

Reuters could not independently verify the video shared on the Telegram messaging app.

Ukraine's Defence Ministry did not immediately comment on Mr Kadyrov's statement. Its general staff said early on Thursday that missile and bomb strikes continued across the country.

Mariupol hit by war's fiercest fighting

Mariupol has endured the fiercest fighting of the war as Russian forces try to take full control. Its capture would be a big strategic prize and would link territory held by pro-Russian separatists in the east with the Crimea region that Moscow annexed in 2014.

A few dozen civilians managed to leave the city on Wednesday in a small bus convoy, according to Reuters witnesses.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said an estimated 1,000 civilians are sheltering at the steel plant.

Ukraine was ready for a "special round of negotiations" with no conditions "to save our guys … military, civilians, children, the living and the wounded", Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.

Kyiv has proposed swapping Russian prisoners of war for safe passage for trapped civilians and soldiers. It was not known if Russia had responded to the offer of special negotiations.

Fighters remain holed up in the plant and have ignored an ultimatum by Russia to surrender.

Updated: April 21, 2022, 9:40 PM