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‘Hundreds’ injured, trapped in battered Mariupol steel plant; Russian assault on Donbas behind schedule: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

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Many badly wounded fighters are among the 1,000 Ukrainian troops still holed up at the sprawling Azovstal steel plant, the last major holdout in the port city of Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Tuesday.

About 100 civilians also remain trapped in the maze of bunkers and tunnels, she said.

“Hundreds are injured,” Vereshchuk told AFP. “There are people with serious injuries who require urgent evacuation. The situation is deteriorating every day.”

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk Regional Military Administration, said Russian bombardments have targeted the complex dozens of times in the last day or so.

“It is easier to say when the shelling does not happen than when it happens,” he said. “Aviation and artillery are almost constantly at work there.”

Russian troops have overwhelmed most of the embattled city, home to 450,000 people before the war. Local officials say fewer than 100,000 remain, but Russia has struggled to complete a takeover that would deprive Ukraine of an important port while providing Russia with a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula and a staging area to send troops elsewhere in the country.

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Latest developments:

►Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the shipment of a multimillion dollar aid package to Odesa, including medical supplies and body armor. Odesa, the subject of intensifying Russian shelling, is a sister city of Baltimore.

►At least 44 bodies of civilians were found under the rubble of a destroyed residential building in Izium, near Kharkiv, said Oleh Synehubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration.

►The U.N. General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly for the Czech Republic to replace Russia on the world organization’s 47-member Human Rights Council. Russia was suspended over allegations of rights violations by its soldiers in Ukraine.

►One person was killed and five were wounded when Russian forces fired seven missiles from the air at Odesa on Monday night, hitting a shopping center and a warehouse, the Ukrainian military said. 

Pentagon official: Russian assault on Donbas weeks behind schedule

Russia appears to be at least two weeks behind schedule in its attempt to wrest the eastern Donbas region from Ukrainian troops, a senior Defense Department official said Tuesday. It remains unclear what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s overall strategy is for Ukraine, said the official, who is not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence assessments.

Putin may seek to capture eastern Ukraine, where separatists have fought with Ukrainian troops since 2014, or he may have a broader aim to control more of the country. But Putin has not achieved any of the success he sought, the official said. 

Tuesday on Capitol Hill, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he expected a prolonged stalemate in Ukraine under current conditions.

Russia warplanes busy – but not over Ukraine

Russian warplane activity has increased in recent days, including more than 300 missions flown in the last 24 hours, a Pentagon official said. However, the airspace over Ukraine continues to be contested, said the official, who is not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence assessments.

Many of the airstrikes launched by Russian pilots have been conducted inside Russian airspace, an indication that they fear Ukrainian air defenses, the official said. The strikes are focused on the eastern Ukraine region of Donbas and the south, including the embattled city of Mariopul. The Russians are not flying routine combat air patrols over Ukraine, the official said.

Americans support Biden’s handling of war in Ukraine, but many worry about confrontation with Russia

More Americans continue to approve than disapprove of the Biden administration’s response to the war in Ukraine, but half of them are at least very concerned the U.S. may wind up in a war with Russia, according to new survey.

The poll of more than 5,000 adults, conducted by the Pew Research Center from April 25-May 1, reveals support for the administration’s stance diminished slightly from 47% in March to 45% in May, but opposition decreased by a larger amount, from 39% to 34%. The approval rate from respondents who identified as Republicans or leaning that way increased from 21% to 26%.

Those opinions might have been swayed at least in part by the early-April revelation of Russian atrocities in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv.

Regardless, Americans are clearly worried about the possibility the U.S. support of Ukraine may lead to a direct confrontation with Russia: 81% said they’re at least somewhat concerned, and 50% said very or extremely concerned.

Ukraine cuts off some gas headed from Russia to Europe

Ukraine’s gas transmission operator says it will shut off almost a third of Russian gas transported through the country en route to much of Europe “as a result of the Russian Federation’s military aggression against Ukraine.” The company said it has facilities in territory temporarily controlled by Russian troops and thus cannot carry out operational and technological control.

“These actions under the current transit contract are force majeure circumstances that make it impossible to fulfill obligations,” the company said. “Force majeure” is essentially an escape clause in contracts allowing for for so-called “acts of God.”

The company said it would offer Russia the chance to try to reroute gas through another crossing held by the Ukrainian government.

Biden concerned that Putin ‘doesn’t have a way out’ of war

Russian President Vladimir Putin has no exit strategy for the Ukraine war – and that is a problem for the West, President Joe Biden says.

Biden, speaking Monday at a political fundraiser outside Washington, said Putin had mistakenly believed the invasion of Ukraine would break up NATO and weaken the European Union, according to a Reuters report.

Eight years ago, Russia stormed into Crimea with little international resistance. But much of the western world rallied behind Ukraine when Moscow sent troops into the heart of the country in February, rolling to within miles of the capital Kyiv. Russian troops have reportedly taken heavy losses while gaining limited ground across Ukraine.

Biden said Putin is a very calculating man who “doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that.”

Biden choice for ambassador to Ukraine faces confirmation hearing

Career foreign service officer Bridget Brink, President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, faces a confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Lawmakers are likely to use the session to grill Brink – not just about her credentials and plans for reopening the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv but also about the Biden administration’s broader effort to help Ukraine repel Russia’s military assault. Brink currently serves as ambassador to the Slovak Republic. Senate Democrats are likely to push for her quick confirmation, saying she is highly qualified and desperately needed. 

“Particularly as Russian forces bear down in communities across Ukraine with horrifying violence, having an ambassador placed is essential to coordinate key military and humanitarian assistance and help our partners defend themselves,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire.

Deirdre Shesgreen and Maureen Groppe

House to vote on bill sending billions more to Ukraine

The House of Representatives will vote on sending billions more in aid to Ukraine on Tuesday, the day after President Joe Biden conceded he would separate his $33 billion emergency request for Ukraine from the billions he’s seeking in pandemic funding. Congressional Democrats are pushing to boost Biden’s requested $33 billion in aid to almost $40 billion.

There has been historic bipartisan support for helping Ukraine, but Republicans have complained that Biden is seeking too much additional pandemic funding. Biden warned the Ukraine funding must be passed within about 10 days to avoid delay, calling on lawmakers to “get it to my desk in the next few days.”

Russia’s Victory Day ends without an escalation of war as some expected

Some analysts and Western officials braced for Russian President Vladimir Putin to ramp up attacks or declare victory in the war in Ukraine on the country’s Victory Day, the nation’s largest public holiday. 

But Putin refrained from doing so during his speech in Moscow’s Red Square on Monday, instead sticking with the phrase he’s used since Feb. 24 to describe Russia’s invasion: “special military operation.” He didn’t declare victory, and there was no discernible increase in attacks Monday. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also celebrated Victory Day on Monday, promising that Ukraine will soon have two Victory Days: one celebrating the defeat of Nazism in Europe and the other celebrating Ukraine’s victory against Russia.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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