Russia claims to be ‘tightening noose’ around Mariupol

Fighting reaches centre of southeastern port city as thousands still stranded

Fighting reached the centre of the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Friday, as attempts to rescue people trapped under the rubble of a bombed-out theatre were again hampered by Russian shelling.

The Russian defence ministry said its forces were "tightening the noose" around the city, and that "fighting against nationalists" was taking place in the city centre. Mariupol's mayor Vadym Boichenko appeared to confirm the claims, telling the BBC that fighting was "really active".

“Tanks and machine gun battles continue,” he said. “Everybody is hiding in bunkers.”

More than 350,000 civilians have been stranded with little food or water in the city, which was under constant bombardment on Friday. Officials say more than 1,000 people may have been taking refuge in a bomb shelter underneath a theatre that was struck on Wednesday.


"More than 130 people have been saved," president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an address on Facebook. "But hundreds of Mariupol residents are still beneath the rubble." Mr Zelenskiy vowed to continue the rescue operation "despite shelling" by Russian forces. Local officials said they did not have any information about the number who had been killed but that one person was seriously injured.

In a call on Friday, French president Emmanuel Macron told Vladimir Putin he was "extremely concerned" about the situation in Mariupol, according to the French presidential office.

Anna, a 30-year-old photographer, managed to flee the city on Tuesday, making it to the nearby town of Berdyansk, in a car whose windows had been smashed during Russian shelling.

“Today a missile hit the shelter where we had been staying,” she said. “One family had left just before the strike, but they didn’t have a car so they set out to walk with their children all the way to Mariupol. They got very lucky because a complete stranger who was driving to Mariupol to get his relatives had empty seats so they’ve made it out of the city.”

Mr Boichenko said Mariupol “had no city centre left. There isn’t a small piece of land in the city that doesn’t have signs of war”.

Fears of spread

Earlier in the day, a Russian missile attack near Lviv airport raised fears of Mr Putin's war spreading to western Ukraine. A facility for repairing military aircraft by Lviv's international airport – only 70km from Poland's border – was hit by two cruise missiles fired from the Black Sea.

Ukrainian officials said they had shot down a further four missiles launched in the attack, the second on facilities near the historic city in recent days. The strikes raised the spectre of Ukraine losing what has so far been a relative haven and hub for refugees and humanitarian aid.

There were also reports of mass casualties after a missile attack on a Ukrainian army barracks in the southern city of Mykolaiv.

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's state emergency service said a multistorey teaching building had been shelled on Friday morning, killing one person, wounding 11 and trapping one other in the rubble.

Shells were also said to have struck the eastern city of Kramatorsk, killing two people and wounding six.

One person was killed and four others wounded after parts of a Russian missile fell on a residential building in the northern part of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Emergency services said 12 people had been rescued and 98 evacuated from the five-storey block.

Cause for concern

The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region said frequent and widespread shelling by Russian forces was preventing the safe evacuation of civilians from towns and villages on the frontline.

The attack near Lviv, where there were no reported casualties, will be a cause for concern for refugees and humanitarian agencies working in the city.

Russia has in recent days accused the West of exacerbating the war by supplying military aid via the western border, claiming such efforts were a legitimate military target.

James Heappey, a UK defence minister, said the attacks would not stop the British government and its allies from arming the Ukrainian forces."It is very much a part of war that you go after each other's supply lines. But the reality is this development will be a concern for people living in the west of Ukraine," he said.

Lviv, a Unesco world heritage site, had been largely untouched by bombings until Friday, although many of its 700,000 inhabitants had feared an attack was a matter of time.

The city has been described as the soul of Ukraine and a symbol of Ukrainian nationalism. Its citizens were among the strongest supporters of the country's separation from the Soviet Union.

On Friday, Putin told German chancellor Olaf Scholz during a phone call that Kyiv was "attempting to stall peace talks" with Russia but Moscow was still keen to continue negotiations. – Guardian