Fighting is raging around Mariupol’s Illich Steel and Iron Works plant as Ukraine tries to holds on in the southern city and break Russia’s siege. Meanwhile, Russia is threatening to increase its missile strikes on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
Russia used long-range bombers to attack Mariupol on Friday for the first time since its February 24 invasion, Ukraine Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said.
"The situation in Mariupol is difficult and hard. Fighting is happening right now, the Russian army is constantly calling on additional units to storm the city, but as of now, the Russians haven't managed to completely capture it,” Motuzyanyk said.
Elsewhere, Russian forces were concentrating on seizing the cities of Rubizhne and Popasna, in Ukraine's east. Also in the region, Russian shelling hit a residential area in Kharkiv, killing seven people, including a small child, and injuring 34 others, the regional governor said Friday.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 2,864 people were evacuated from conflict areas Friday, including 363 from Mariupol, 370 from the Luhansk region in the east, and 2,131 people from cities in the Zaporizhzhia region.
Also, a senior U.S. defense official said the U.S. believes that Ukrainian forces struck the Russian warship Moskva with two Neptune missiles, causing it to sink. The confirmation Friday came after Ukrainian forces said they had attacked the cruiser in the Black Sea, while Russian officials claimed the ship had experienced a fire.
Tensions between Russia and the European Union increased Friday as Russia expelled 18 EU diplomats. The move comes in retaliation for Brussels' decision earlier this month to expel 19 Russians, members of the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the EU in Brussels, for "engaging in activities contrary to their diplomatic status."
Russia's foreign ministry said in its statement it had summoned EU Ambassador to Russia Markus Ederer and handed him a note of protest. The EU diplomats must leave Russia as soon as possible, the ministry added.
The EU mission to Russia called the decision by the Russian authorities “a retaliatory step."
The Washington Post reported on Friday that Moscow this week sent a formal diplomatic communique to the U.S. warning that shipments of the “most sensitive” weapons systems to Ukraine were “adding fuel” to the war and said that could result in “unpredictable consequences.”
The Post said it reviewed a copy of the diplomatic note, which came as U.S. President Joe Biden approved a major expansion of the military hardware being provided.
In an interview with CNN, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy echoed the concerns of CIA Director William Burns, who said that Russia, “out of desperation,” could consider using tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons. Zelenskyy said the whole world should be worrying.
“For them,” meaning Russian leader Vladimir Putin and the Russian military, “life of people is nothing,” Zelenskyy said.
More than 900 bodies of civilians were discovered in the Kyiv region following the withdrawal of Russian forces, according to the regional police chief, who spoke Friday at a briefing.
The jarring numbers came shortly after Russia’s Defense Ministry promised to ramp up missile attacks on Kyiv in response to Ukraine’s alleged aggression on Russian territory.
Russian authorities accused Ukraine of launching airstrikes on residential buildings in a border region of Russia. Ukrainian officials have not confirmed striking targets in Russia.
Russia pulled its troops out of northern Ukraine this month.
Moscow now says its main war aim is capturing the Donbas, an eastern region of two provinces that are already partly held by Russian-backed separatists and that Russia wants Kyiv to cede.
Russia has amassed thousands of troops in the east for what Ukraine anticipates will be a major assault.
Moscow says it hopes to seize all of Mariupol soon, which would make it the first large city it has captured.
The Black Sea port, home to 400,000 people before the war, has been reduced to rubble by seven weeks of siege and bombardment, with tens of thousands of people trapped inside.
Thousands of civilians have died there, Ukrainian officials have said.
Russia initially described its aims in Ukraine as disarming its neighbor and defeating nationalists there. Kyiv and its Western allies say those are bogus justifications for an unprovoked war of aggression that has driven a quarter of Ukraine's 44 million people from their homes.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.