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Putin Tells Defence Chief: Block Mariupol Stronghold so ‘a Fly Cannot Pass Through’




President Putin has said he wants a Mariupol steelworks that is the last stronghold of resistance in the city to be blockaded so that “a fly cannot pass through”.

He told defence minister Sergei Shoigu that a major attack on the Azovstal plant was not needed.

“I consider the proposed storming of the industrial zone unnecessary,” Mr Putin said. “I order you to cancel it.”

Ukraine latest: Russia ‘trucking dead bodies from Mariupol to hide atrocities’

The southeastern city has been devastated by a near-constant bombardment since the war began – with an estimated 20,000 civilians killed.

Another 1,000 people are sheltering alongside Ukrainian troops at the steelworks.

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Mariupol troops ‘outnumbered 10 to one’

Mr Putin said he had decided not to storm the plant to protect the lives of Russian soldiers.

“There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,” he told Mr Shoigu.

“Block off this industrial area so that a fly cannot pass through.”

He also called on remaining fighters in Azovstal to surrender, saying they would be treated with respect and get medical help.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Russian was unable to capture the facility.

“They physically cannot take Azovstal, they have understood this, they have taken huge losses there. Our defenders continue to hold it,” he said.

Capturing Mariupol would create a land bridge between Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the new heart of its invasion in the east.

It comes as President Biden announced a further $800m (GBP613m) of US weaponry – including howitzers, drones and 144,000 rounds of ammo – would be sent “directly to the front lines of freedom”.

Other key developments:
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o Syrian and Libyan fighters are fighting in the war, Ukraine claims
o Djokovic calls Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarussian players “crazy”
o Captured British fighters “being given necessary help”, Russia claims
o Johnson says peace talks likely to fail and compares talks with Putin to negotiating with crocodile

Steel plant defenders ‘outnumbered 10 to 1’

Ukrainian marine commander Serhiy Volny has warned that fighters at the sprawling Mariupol plant may not be able to “hold out for much longer”.

He told Sky News that troops were “outnumbered 10 to one” and more than 500 fighters needed medical attention.

“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,” he said.

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Why is Mariupol so important to both sides?

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Russian airstrike on Azovstal plant

The situation in Mariupol has become so desperate that President Zelenskyy has proposed swapping Russian prisoners for a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians safe passage.

Ukraine is ready for a “special round of negotiations” with no conditions “to save our guys, Azov [battalion], military, civilians, children, the living and the wounded”, negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said.

Four evacuation buses carrying around 80 civilians from Mariupol left the city on Wednesday, but tens of thousands are still trapped in the city with little food, water or access to medical aid.

Russia hits ‘1,001 targets’ overnight

Missiles and artillery struck 1,001 military targets in Ukraine overnight, including 162 firing positions, Russia’s ministry of defence said on Thursday.

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The mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, said it had come under intense bombardment as the battle for the eastern Donbas region escalates.

Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists have also taken full control of the town of Kreminna.

The governor of Luhansk, part of the Donbas, has claimed Russian forces now control 80% of his region.

Serhiy Haidai said cities such as Rubizhne and Popasna were now under threat.

“The occupiers control only parts of these cities, unable to break through to the centres,” Mr Haidai said on messaging app Telegram.

Analysts have said the east could become a war of attrition as Russia faces Ukraine’s most experienced troops, who have fought pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas for eight years.

Read more:
Why is Russia focusing on the east?

Only a miracle could stop fall of Mariupol

By Deborah Haynes, security and defence editor

A decision by Vladimir Putin to cancel plans to storm the last stronghold of resistance in Mariupol means the Ukrainian city has not completely fallen to Russia but – short of a miracle – that must only be a matter of time.

The Russian president has instead ordered that a blockade be maintained around a sprawling steelworks, where thousands of Ukrainian fighters and hundreds of civilians are holed up, so that not even a fly can escape.

It signals a cruel final stand for Ukrainian defenders who have withstood almost two months of sustained bombardments, though it does rob – or at least delay – the Kremlin from being able to declare the strategic port city is fully under Russian control.

Ukraine’s government is trying to secure safe passage for its people but there is no sign they can convince Russia to let them escape.

The seemingly inevitable fall of Mariupol would mark the most significant capture of a Ukrainian city since the invasion began, with Russian forces thought to be seeking to secure successes ahead of annual Victory Day on 9 May, commemorating the end of the Second World War.

However, the seizure of the city, which once had a population of almost half a million, has come at a devastating cost for its residents. More than 20,000 civilians have been killed, many more wounded and hundreds of thousands have fled.

Mariupol itself has been all but flattened.

Some 90 per cent of homes and buildings have been damaged by Russian strikes, with 40 per cent of buildings destroyed.

$800m of military aid going ‘directly to the front lines’

President Biden announced another $800m (GBP613m) military aid package on Thursday, heeding a call from Ukrainian authorities for more heavy weaponry to repel the eastern offensive.

The president said it included dozens of howitzer guns, 144,000 rounds of ammunition and tactical drones.

Mr Biden said America and allies were “moving as fast as possible” to give Ukraine the weapons it needs.

“We’re in a critical window now of time where they’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war,” the president said.

The military aid is the same size as another package announced last week, and America has so far promised over $2bn of military aid.

The president said Mr Putin was “banking on us losing interest” and that “Western unity will crack”, but that “once again we’re going to prove him wrong”.

Mr Biden also pledged another $500m (GBP383m) of economic aid, raising its total to $1bn (GBP767m) since the war started.

British prisoners ‘being taken care of’

Russia’s foreign ministry has also said that two British fighters captured on Monday are well looked after.

“Don’t worry, the Russian side is taking care of them,” said spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Shaun Pinner is one of the Britons who have been captured

“They are fed, watered, and given the necessary assistance. Just like other foreigners who have surrendered or been detained.”

The men were seized by Russian forces and appeared on state TV, where they asked to be exchanged for a Ukrainian ally of President Putin.

Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin asked to be swapped for Viktor Medvedchuk, who is being held by the Ukrainian authorities.

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WHO Estimates 15m People Have Died Directly or Indirectly From COVID – More Than Double Official Death Toll




The World Health Organisation estimates that 15 million people worldwide have now died of coronavirus – or as a result of its impact on health services.

WHO data shows the number of excess COVID mortalities to be somewhere between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2021. This is more than double the official death toll of around six million.

Excess mortality refers to the number of people who have died of the virus either directly or indirectly by being unable to access health services for other conditions.

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The figures were compiled using country-reported data and statistical modelling, the WHO said.


There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the UN body said on Thursday.

Most excess COVID deaths (86%) happened in Asia, Europe and the Americas, according to the figures.

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Middle-income countries accounted for 81% of deaths, with 28% occurring in upper-middle-income countries and 4% in low-income ones.

Some 68% of all excess deaths worldwide happened in just 10 countries.

There was a higher rate for men (57%) than there was for women (43%), with more excess deaths among the elderly than younger generations.

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WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented: “These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems.

“WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”

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Pope Francis Seen Using Wheelchair for the First Time for Mobility Reasons




The Pope has been pictured using a wheelchair – the first time he’s used one in public due to the knee pain that’s made it hard for him to walk and stand.

Francis, 85, was wheeled on stage and helped into a seat during an audience with a group of nuns and religious superiors from around the world at the Vatican.

He appears to be having a flare-up of sciatica, a nerve condition he suffers with that he’s called his “troublesome guest”.

The Pope has had to cancel or cut short activities several times in the last month because of pain in his right knee.

He was pictured in a wheelchair last July after major intestinal surgery, but this is believed to be the first time he’s used one in public due to his mobility problems.


Before Thursday’s event, he was able to walk the roughly 10 metres or so from the side entrance of the stage to his seat with some help.

He recently received some injections to try to relieve the pain but has continued to struggle.

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His impaired movement was apparent over Easter when he attended but did not take charge of masses at St Peter’s Basilica, instead delegating a cardinal or archbishop to preside.

During a trip to Malta in April he was also pictured using an elevator platform to get on and off the plane.

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Woman Pulled Alive From Rubble Six Days After Building Collapsed




A woman has been found alive in the rubble of a building that partially collapsed almost six days earlier, Chinese state media has said.

At least five people are confirmed to have died and possibly dozens are still missing following the disaster in the city of Changsha, in central China‘s Hunan Province, on 29 April.

The unidentified woman has become the 10th survivor and was rescued shortly after midnight today, about 132 hours after the rear of the six-storey building suddenly caved in, the official Xinhua News Agency has reported.

The woman was conscious and told rescuers how to pull her out without causing further injury, Xinhua added.

Teams had used dogs and hand tools as well as drones and electronic life detectors in the search.


All the survivors were reportedly in good condition after being treated in a hospital and it is thought intermittent rain showers over the last few days may have helped their chances of survival without food or water.

At least nine people have been arrested in relation to the collapse of what Xinhua has described as a “self-built building”.

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This includes its owner, on suspicion of ignoring building codes or committing other violations.

Three people in charge of design and construction were also held, along with five others who allegedly gave a false safety assessment for a guest house on the building’s fourth to sixth floors.

The building also housed residences, a cafe and shops.

An aerial photo shows the site of the collapsed residential building in Changsha, central China’s Hunan Province

There has been increase in the number of collapses of self-built buildings in recent years.

Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for additional checks to uncover structural weaknesses.

Following the building collapse at the weekend, he urged for more victims to be found in the rubble “at all costs”.

Poor adherence to safety standards, including the illegal addition of extra floors and failure to use reinforcing iron bars, is often blamed for similar disasters.

China also suffers from decaying infrastructure such as gas pipes that has led to explosions and collapses.

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