Ukrainian soldiers facing a relentless bombardment in a ruined steelworks vowed on Sunday to fight until death as President Vladimir Putin seeks to mark Russia’s Victory Day by wiping out the last resistance in the ruined port city of Mariupol.
Mr Putin is due to preside over a military parade in Moscow’s Red Square on Monday and make a speech that could offer clues about the future direction of a war that has been marked by its devastation and high civilian casualties but limited Russian success.
Some 60 more people were feared dead in the Russian bombing of a school in the village of Bilohorivka, in the eastern Luhansk region. About 90 people were sheltering inside the school on Saturday when it was hit by a bomb that set the building alight for four hours.
“Thirty people were evacuated from the rubble, seven of whom were injured. Sixty people were likely to have died,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
The leaders of the G7 group of developed nations spoke via videolink with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to condemn the civilian casualities and express their common resolve in stopping Mr Putin from winning the war.
The leaders of the UK, US, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan announced a five-point programme to keep the pressure on Moscow including further financial sanctions and phasing out their dependence on Russian energy.
"The G7 and Ukraine stand united in this difficult time and in their quest to ensure Ukraine’s democratic, prosperous future," the G7 statement said.
Intensified efforts to overwhelm the Ukrainian soldiers came as Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Marat Khusnullin, said on Telegram that he travelled to Mariupol.
He is the most senior Russian figure to have visited after weeks of dogged resistance by Ukrainian forces inside the Azovstal steelworks. An estimated 2,000 fighters are making a last stand there, the only part of the city not under Russian control.
Mariupol is vital to Moscow's efforts to link the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014, and parts of the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk that have been controlled by Russia-backed separatists since then.
The deputy commander of the Azov regiment pleaded with the international community to help to evacuate wounded soldiers from the plant.
"We will continue to fight as long as we are alive to repel the Russian occupiers," Capt Sviatoslav Palamar told an online news conference.
Another member of the Azov Regiment, Lt Illya Samoilenko, said the situation was dire at the plant as they did not have life-saving equipment in their tunnels. He also said fighters had to dig out people by hand when some bunkers collapsed under the Russian shelling.
"The truth is, we are unique because no one expected we would last so long," he said. "Surrender for us is unacceptable because we cannot grant such a gift to the enemy."
In a week-long operation brokered by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), scores of civilians who had taken refuge in the plant's underground shelters have been evacuated.
The Ukrainian troops rejected deadlines given by the Russians who said the defenders could leave with their lives if they laid down their arms.
President Zelenskyy said late on Saturday that more than 300 civilians had been rescued and authorities would now focus on trying to evacuate the wounded and medics.
In the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, about 230 kilometres north west of Mariupol, dozens of people who had fled the port city and nearby occupied areas waited to be registered in a car park set up to welcome evacuees.
"There's lots of people still in Mariupol, who want to leave but can't," said history teacher Viktoria Andreyeva, 46.
In an emotional address on Sunday for Victory Day, when Europe commemorates the formal surrender of Germany to the Allies in World War Two, President Zelenskyy said that evil had returned to Ukraine with the Russian invasion, but his country would prevail.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an unannounced visit to the town of Irpin on Sunday as part of the coordinated show of support by the country's allies. “The prime minister is in Ukraine to meet with President Zelenskyy and reaffirm Canada's unwavering support for the Ukrainian people,” his office said.
Mr Putin sent Victory Day messages to separatist leaders in Luhansk and Donetsk, saying Russia was fighting shoulder to shoulder with them and likening their joint efforts to the war against Nazi Germany.
He launched what he said was a "special military operation" on February 24 to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and its allies say Russia launched an unprovoked and accused its forces of civilians.
"They (the Russians) have nothing to celebrate tomorrow," said US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on CNN. "They have not succeeded in defeating the Ukrainians. They have not succeeded in dividing the world or dividing Nato."