Ukraine’s defense ministry said late on Friday it lost access to the Sea of Azov “temporarily” as invading Russian forces were tightening their grip around the Sea’s major port of Mariupol on the 23rd day of the invasion.
“The occupiers have partially succeeded in the Donetsk operational district, temporarily depriving Ukraine of access to the Sea of Azov,” Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a statement.
The ministry did not specify in its statement whether Ukraine’s forces have regained access to the Sea.
Elsewhere, Russian missiles struck destroyed an airplane maintenance plant near the airport of Ukraine’s western city of Lviv on Friday, its mayor Andriy Sadovy said
Speaking on Facebook, the mayor first stressed that what was struck was “definitely not the airport” and urged people to not share photos of the targeted area.
Later, he clarified that the repair plant was struck and destroyed in the attack.
There were no fatalities, however, as the site’s work had already stopped. However, one person was injured in the attack, according to the head of the Lviv Regional Military Administration, Interfax reported.
Authorities are assessing the situation and will issue updates, Sadovy said.
Earlier, television station Ukraine 24 said at least three explosions had been heard in the city.
“Smoke is on the outskirts of Lviv. Fire is visible,” Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said, according to Interfax.
Separately, Ukraine’s military said the plant was struck by cruise missiles launched from the direction of the Black Sea.
The type of the missile was likely Kh-555, the military said, which are launched from heavy strategic bombers. Similar missiles struck the Yavoriv military base in western Ukraine on Sunday.
The city of Voznesensk was also hit by a Russian airstrike Friday morning, according to the city’s Mayor Evgeny Velichko on Facebook, as reported by the New Voice of Ukraine.
Also Friday, Russian forces fired on a military facility near Zaporizhzhia, Zaporizhzhia Regional Military Administration head Alexander Starukh said, according to Interfax.
According to Starukh, two bombs were dropped from a plane, only one of which exploded. There are no victims, but the exact damage caused by this attack is not yet determined, Interfax reported.
One person was killed and 4 wounded after parts of a Russian missile fell on a residential building in the northern part of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Friday morning, emergencies services said.
The services said in a statement that 12 people were rescued and 98 were evacuated from the 5-story building.
The Ukrainian emergency services said that one person was killed and 11 injured when Russian forces shelled a multi-story teaching building on Kharkiv Friday.
According to the Donetsk region’s governor, Russian shelling in the city of Kramatorsk on Friday killed two and injured six.
Russia has established a no-fly zone over Ukraine’s Donbas region, according to a separatist official from the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Interfax news agency said on Friday.
The fighting continues
Fighting continues to rage throughout Ukraine, especially in the southern Black Sea port city of Mariupol, which has been under siege and bombarded by Russian troops.
According to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, thousands have already been killed by the Russian military and artillery shelling has effectively destroyed 90% of the city.
The city is currently undergoing a humanitarian crisis, with food, power, water and other staples in short supply and humanitarian aid struggling to reach them.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday said rescue work was ongoing to save hundreds of people still believed to be trapped under the rubble of a bombed theater in the besieged city of Mariupol.
Earlier, human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova reported 130 survivors had been rescued from the rubble, but said there was still no information on more than 1,000 other people official figures suggest were sheltering there when the bomb fell.
Ukraine accuses Russia of carrying out the powerful air strike that destroyed the theater on Wednesday. Russia has denied bombing the theater or attacking civilians.
“There are still hundreds of Mariupol residents under the rubble. Despite the shelling, despite all the difficulties, we will continue the rescue work,” Zelenskiy said in an online video address.
The Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed the number of possible casualties.
“Rescuers are working. There is only this information: 130 people are alive and have been taken out. The rest are waiting for help,” ombudswoman Denisova said on national television.
“According to our data there are still more than 1,300 people there who are in these basements, in that bomb shelter,” Denisova said, referring to underground shelters below the theater.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the figures.
Mariupol city council has previously said there were more than 1,000 people sheltering under the theater.
Russian forces and Russia-backed separatists are keeping up their assault on the port city and are working to “tighten the noose” around Mariupol, RIA news agency reported citing Russia’s Defense Ministry.
According to a recent UK defense intelligence update, the Russian advance has made minimal progress, something it credits to the resistance efforts of Ukrainian forces. In particular, Ukrainian troops around Kyiv and Mykolaiv are preventing Russian forces from encircling them.
Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol, however, are still encircled and being bombarded by Russian artillery shelling.
A total of 9,145 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Friday, a senior official said, a number that is considerably more than managed to escape on Thursday.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said in an online post that 4,972 people had left the besieged city of Mariupol. A total of only 3,810 people were able to leave cities across the country on Thursday.
Ukraine hopes to evacuate civilians on Friday through nine humanitarian corridors from cities and towns on the front line of fighting with Russian forces, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
According to the United Nations, over 3.2 million refugees have already fled Ukraine, and that number is expected to rise as the conflict continues.
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 front line.
Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said 59 civilians had been killed in the region since the start of the war, which he said had entirely destroyed some residential areas.
“There is not one community that hasn’t been under fire,” he said on national television, naming the towns of Severodonetsk, Rubizhne and Popasna as particular hotspots.
Efforts to evacuate civilians have been hampered by the fighting, but the local authorities hope a temporary ceasefire can be agreed for Saturday to allow trucks to distribute food, medicine and other aid to people most in need.
Bordering Russia, Luhansk lies in Ukraine’s coal-rich Donbas region that has been partly controlled by Russia-backed separatists since 2014. Governor Gaidai is the head of the region’s Ukrainian administration.
The UN rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday that at least 816 civilians had been killed and 1,333 wounded in Ukraine through to March 17.
Most of the casualties were from explosive weapons such as shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes, OHCHR said.
The real toll is thought to be considerably higher since OHCHR, which has a large monitoring team in the country, has not yet been able to verify casualty reports from badly-hit cities like Mariupol.
According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Russia has so far suffered over 14,200 casualties.
Ukrainian troops have also reportedly taken out 450 tanks, 1,448 armored personnel vehicles, 205 artillery systems, 72 MLRS, 43 anti-aircraft defense systems, 93 aircraft, 112 helicopters, 12 drones, 60 fuel tanks, three boats, 879 other vehicles and 11 special equipment.