Local residents walk amid debris of a charred Russian tank next to destroyed houses in the village of Zalissya, northeast of Kyiv
Sharjah 24 – AFP: Mariupol could fall into Russian hands within "hours", a Ukrainian official said following a two month siege, as the enemies agreed Wednesday to a humanitarian corridor for civilians to flee the devastated port city.
As fighting raged in the country's east and south, the president of the European Council Charles Michel arrived in Kyiv, in the latest sign of strengthening ties between Ukraine and the EU.
"In Kyiv today. In the heart of a free and democratic Europe," he wrote on social media.
Michel's visit comes as the West continues to pour weapons into Ukraine amid a renewed Russian push into the eastern Donbas region where a new offensive launched this week has led to an uptick in fighting.
Hours ahead of Michel's arrival, the Pentagon said that Ukraine had recently received fighter planes and spare parts to bolster its air force, following repeated calls from Kyiv for heavier weapons.
Ukraine's air force later hit back at the claim, saying they had only received spare parts to repair existing planes and not been given additional aircraft.
The announcement came as the battle for Mariupol appeared to be nearing a crucial tipping point, after months of devastating fighting that has seen untold numbers of civilians trapped and killed.
Control of Mariupol and the separatist-controlled Donbas region in the east would allow Moscow to create a southern corridor to the Crimean Peninsula that it annexed in 2014, depriving Ukraine of much of its coastline.
In the latest ultimatum issued in its battle to capture Mariupol, Moscow made another call for the city's defenders to surrender on Wednesday by 2:00 pm Moscow time (1100 GMT) and announced the opening of a humanitarian corridor for any Ukrainian troops who agreed to lay down their arms.
As the deadline approached, a commander in the besieged Azovstal steel plant issued a desperate plea for help, saying his marines were "maybe facing our last days, if not hours".
"The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one," Serhiy Volyna from the 36th Separate Marine Brigade said.
"We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us. We ask them to use the procedure of extraction and take us to the territory of a third-party state."
Thousands of troops and civilians remain holed up in the plant.
An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol described a "horrible situation" in the encircled complex and reported that up to 2,000 people -- mostly women and children -- are without "normal" supplies of drinking water, food and fresh air.
Svyatoslav Palamar, a commander in the nationalist Azov battalion defending Mariupol, said the Russian attack on the sprawling steel complex was relentless.
"Powerful bombs have been dropped several times on Azovstal, we have been bombed from boats... we are under siege. The front is 360 degrees," said Palamar in a post on Telegram, adding that hundreds of civilians were also trapped at the plant.
"The situation is critical, we call on international leaders to help the children," he added.
Offering some respite, Kyiv said early Wednesday it had agreed with Russian forces to open a safe route for civilians to flee the devastated city.
"We have managed to get a preliminary agreement on a humanitarian corridor for women, children and elderly persons," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Telegram.
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