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Live updates: Big steel plant ‘being destroyed’ in Mariupol

LVIV, Ukraine — In the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting for the Azovstal steel…

LVIV, Ukraine — In the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting for the Azovstal steel plant, one of the biggest in Europe, said Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, in televised remarks on Saturday.

“Now there is a fight for Azovstal. … I can say that we have lost this economic giant. In fact, one of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe is actually being destroyed,” Denysenko said.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russia has attacked the outskirts of the western city of Lviv, a crossroads for people fleeing the war and for others entering to deliver aid or fight.

— President Vladimir Putin appeared at a huge patriotic rally in Moscow and praised the Russian military

— President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping spoke as the White House looks to deter Beijing from providing assistance to Russia.

— Rescuers search for survivors at a Mariupol theater hit by Russian airstrike; 130 rescued, hundreds still missing

— An estimated 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine, on top of the 3.2 million who have already fled the country

— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS TODAY:

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian forces are blockading Ukraine’s largest cities to create a “humanitarian catastrophe” with the aim of persuading Ukrainians to cooperate with them.

He says Russians are preventing supplies from reaching surrounded cities in the center and southeast of the country.

“This is a totally deliberate tactic,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime video address to the nation, filmed outside in Kyiv, with the presidential office in the lamplight behind him.

He said more than 9,000 people were able to leave besieged Mariupol in the past day, and in all more than 180,000 people have been able to flee to safety through humanitarian corridors.

He again appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold talks with him directly. “It’s time to meet, time to speak,” he said. “I want to be heard by everyone, especially in Moscow.”

He noted that the 200,000 people Putin gathered in and around a Moscow stadium on Friday for a flag-waving rally was about the same number of Russian troops sent into Ukraine three weeks ago.

Zelenskyy then asked his audience to picture the stadium filled with the thousands of Russians who have been killed, wounded or maimed in the fighting.

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NEW YORK — Three Russian cosmonauts have arrived at the International Space Station wearing flight suits in yellow and blue colors that match the Ukrainian flag.

The men were the first new arrivals on the space station since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine last month.

Video of one of the cosmonauts taken as the capsule prepared to dock with the space station showed him wearing a blue flight suit. It was unclear what, if any, message the yellow uniforms they changed into were intended to send.

Oleg Artemyev was asked about the yellow flight suits when the newly arrived cosmonauts were able to talk to family back on Earth.

He said every crew chooses its own flight suits, so that they are not all the same.

“It became our turn to pick a color. But in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material so we needed to use it. So that’s why we had to wear yellow,” he said.

Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov blasted off successfully from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft at 8:55 pm Friday (11:55 am EDT). They smoothly docked at the station just over three hours later, joining two Russians, four Americans and a German on the orbiting outpost.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine lost access to the Azov Sea during Russia’s siege of the southern port city of Mariupol, the Ukrainian General Staff said late Friday.

Mariupol is the key commercial port on the Azov Sea, which is connected to the much larger Black Sea by a narrow strait.

The General Staff said the Russian forces were still trying to storm Mariupol and the fighting was ongoing. It was unclear from its statement whether the Russians have seized the city.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s interior minister said Friday that it will take years to defuse unexploded ordnances after the Russian invasion.

Speaking to The Associated Press in the besieged Ukrainian capital, Denys Monastyrsky said that the country will need Western assistance to cope with the massive task once the war is over.

“A huge number of shells and mines have been fired at Ukraine and a large part haven’t exploded, they remain under the rubble and pose a real threat,” Monastyrsky said. “It will take years, not months, to defuse them. “

In addition to the unexploded Russian ordnances, the Ukrainian troops also have planted land mines at bridges, airports and other key infrastructure to prevent Russians from using them.

“We won’t be able to remove the mines from all that territory, so I asked our international partners and colleagues from the European Union and the United States to prepare groups of experts to demine the areas of combat and facilities that came under shelling, ” Monastyrsky told the AP.

He noted that another top challenge is dealing with fires caused by the relentless Russian barrages. He said there’s a desperate shortage of personnel and equipment to deal with the fires amid the constant shelling.

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UNITED NATIONS — Russia’s first deputy UN ambassador says Twitter has blocked his account, accusing him of “abuse and harassment,” due to a tweet about the maternity hospital in the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

“This is very deplorable,” Dmitry Polyansky told reporters after a UN Security Council meeting Friday, “and this clearly illustrates how much alternative view and free press, and free information is valued by Twitter and in this country.”

Polyansky, who had more than 22,000 followers and was a prolific Twitter user, said he received a message earlier Friday from Twitter’s cloud service saying he was violating Twitter’s rules and was “engaged in abuse and harassment.”

He said Twitter referred to his warning in a tweet on March 7 “that the hospital in Mariupol had been turned into a military object by radicals. Very disturbing that UN spreads disinformation without verification.”

Associated Press journalists, who have been reporting from inside blockaded Mariupol since early in the war, documented the March 10 attack on the maternity hospital and saw the victims and damage firsthand. They shot video and photos of several bloodstained, pregnant mothers fleeing the blown- out maternity ward as medical workers shouted and children cried.

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