Activists take part in a rally demanding world leaders to organise a humanitarian corridor for evacuation of Ukrainians from Mariupol in Kyiv on Saturday. AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to declare an "all-out war" on Ukraine "within days" to enable Moscow to launch a general mobilisation of the population, according to Russian sources and Western officials.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb.24 in what Putin called a "special military operation" to "demilitarise and denazify" Ukraine and barred the use of the word "war," thinking it would be over in a few weeks, The Daily Mail reported.
However, army chiefs, frustrated that the invasion has now stretched into the third week, have called on the president to declare war which would enable a mass mobilisation of Russian troops and an escalation in the conflict.
Women take part in a rally demanding international leaders to organise a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of Ukrainian military and civilians from Mariupol. Reuters
Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that Putin might use Russia's victory day parade on May 9 to announce the mass mobilisation of his reserves for a final push in Ukraine.
It comes as former Nato chief Richard Sherriff warned the West must "gear itself up" for a "worst case scenario" war with Russia in Ukraine.
A Russian military source told the Telepgraph: "The military are outraged that the blitz on Kiev has failed. People in the army are seeking payback for failures of the past and they want to go further in Ukraine."
Earlier this week, the Russian military was said to be furious that Putin had downsized the invasion of Ukraine and called for a new escalation of the conflict.
Ukrainian forces fought village by village on Saturday to hold back a Russian advance through the country’s east, while the United Nations worked to broker a civilian evacuation from the last Ukrainian stronghold in the bombed-out ruins of the port city of Mariupol.
An estimated 100,000 civilians remain in the city, and up to 1,000 are living beneath a sprawling Soviet-era steel plant, according to Ukrainian officials. Ukraine has not said how many fighters also are in the plant, the only part of Mariupol not occupied by Russian forces, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000.
Ukrainians seeking asylum in US carry blankets in the Francisco Madero sports complex in Mexico City. Reuters
Russian state news outlets reported on Saturday that 25 civilians had been evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks, though there was no confirmation from the UN or Ukrainian officials.
Russia's RIA Novosti news agency said 19 adults and six children were brought out of the plant, but gave no further details.
Video and images from inside the plant, shared with The Associated Press by two Ukrainian women who said their husbands are among the fighters refusing to surrender there, showed unidentified wounded men with stained bandages in need of changing; others had open wounds or amputated limbs.
A skeleton medical staff was treating at least 600 wounded people, said the women, who identified their husbands as members of the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard. Some of the wounds were rotting with gangrene, they said.
In the video the women shared, the wounded men tell the camera they eat once a day and share as little as 1.5 litres of water a day among four. Supplies inside the surrounded facility are depleted, they said.
The AP could not independently verify the date and location of the footage, which the women said was taken in the last week in the warren of passageways beneath the steel mill.
One shirtless man spoke in obvious pain as he described his wounds: two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a dislocated arm that "was hanging on the flesh.”
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the lifting of sanctions imposed on Russia is part of peace talks with Ukraine, but senior Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak denied that this was the case.
"At present, the Russian and Ukrainian delegations are actually discussing on a daily basis via video-conferencing a draft of a possible treaty," Lavrov said in comments to China's official Xinhua news agency published on the Russian foreign ministry's website on Saturday.
"The talks' agenda ... includes, among other things, the issues of denazification, the recognition of new geopolitical realities, the lifting of sanctions, the status of the Russian language," Lavrov said, without elaborating.
"We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them — we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are," Putin told Rossiya 1 state television.
Addressing the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin said, "we are strong people and can cope with any challenge. Like our ancestors, we will solve any problem, the entire thousand-year history of our country speaks of this."
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday Moscow's military action in Ukraine was not responsible for the global food crisis, instead blaming the West for preventing the export of Russian grain.
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