Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Ukrainian troops in Mariupol facing ‘last days, if not hours,’ commander says

Major Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine’s 36th Separate Marine Brigade, issued a desperate plea to world leaders in a Facebook video posted from the besieged city of Mariupol.

“This is our appeal to the world. This could be the last appeal of our lives. We are probably facing our last days, if not hours,” Volyna said, according to multiple translations. Russia has issued a new ultimatum, demanding the city surrender by 2:00 pm (7:00 am ET) Moscow time, after Ukrainians refused to meet a surrender deadline last Sunday. Mariupol has been surrounded by Russian forces and largely cut off from electricity, water, food and heating since early March.

“The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one. They have advantage in the air, in artillery, in their forces on land, in equipment and in tanks,” Volyna said, adding that his forces were “defending only one object” — the Azovstal steel plant where both military personnel and civilians were holed up, with hundreds reportedly wounded from Russian strikes. “We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us,” he said.

The video was posted by Volyna from his personal Facebook page, not by the Azov unit. NBC has not independently verified the information.

In a prior post from Monday, Volyna wrote: “Our wounded die in unbearable torment daily as medicines, disinfectants, pain relief opportunities are long over.” He called for heavy weapons to be delivered to Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol.

The humanitarian situation in the eastern Ukrainian city, which had a pre-war population of around 500,000, is extremely dire, Ukrainian officials and humanitarian organizations say. At least 100,000 civilians still remain trapped there under heavy Russian shelling. Attempts to open humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to escape have consistently failed.

—Natasha Turak

China’s imports of Russian coal fell 30% in March

Employees work on a freight train loaded with coal at Jiangxi Coal Reserve Center on January 29, 2022 in China. China imported 30% less coal from Russia year-on-year in March, according to Reuters.

Hu Guolin | Visual China Group | Getty Images

China imported 30% less coal from Russia in March than last year, on worries of potential foreign sanctions and a decline in purchases of foreign coal, according to Reuters.

The news agency reported the country’s overall coal imports fell by 40% from last year as record domestic output and government price caps made overseas supply less attractive.

Reuters reported Chinese traders trimmed Russian coal imports in part because they had difficulty securing financing from state banks on edge about possible sanctions.

But a potential European Union ban of Russian coal could cause prices to plummet. Reuters reported Chinese traders have sought cheap cargos and looked to pay in yuan in order to bypass the international SWIFT transaction system.

—Chelsea Ong

Russia gives Ukraine new deadline for Mariupol surrender

Russia has set a new deadline for the surrender of the battered city of Mariupol by 2 pm Moscow time today (7:00 am ET), saying in a statement early Wednesday morning that it would “once again” offer Ukraine the option “to stop fighting and lay down their weapons.”

An initial ultimatum demanding surrender by last Sunday, April 17, was ignored by Ukrainian forces in the city, who have pledged to “fight till the end.” Ukrainian defenders in the strategic port city are vastly outnumbered by Russian troops, who have surrounded it since early March, cutting it off from access to water, electricity, heat, internet, and most humanitarian aid.

Just 30 miles from the Russian border, Moscow views Mariupol as crucial territory that would give it a land corridor between the contested breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which Russia has recognized as independent, and the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014.

—Natasha Turak

Russia hopes to disrupt Ukrainian troops and weapon movements, UK says

A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Barvinkove, eastern Ukraine, on April 15, 2022. Fighting in the Donbas is “intensifying” and Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s eastern border continues to increase, the British defense ministry said

Ronaldo Schemidt | dpa | Getty Images

Russia is trying to disrupt the movement of Ukrainian reinforcements and weaponry to the east of the country by attacking various cities, the British defense ministry said in an intelligence update.

But Russian air activity in northern Ukraine is “likely to remain low” following its withdrawal from the north of capital Kyiv, according to the ministry.

“However, there is still a risk of precision strikes against priority targets throughout Ukraine,” the UK ministry said.

Fighting in the eastern Donbas region is “intensifying” and Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s eastern border continues, the ministry said.

—Chelsea Ong

Zelenskyy says situation in battered port city of Mariupol remains ‘severe’

Russia is “blocking” efforts to organize humanitarian corridors in the strategic port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

“The situation in Mariupol remains unchanged — as severe as possible,” he said. Ukraine has not heard from Russia about the exchange offer, he added, referring to a proposal to trade detained pro-Russia Ukrainian opposition politician Viktor Medvedchuk for civilians and troops in the the battered port city.

He also said Russian forces are trying to carry out deportation or mobilization of Mariupol’s residents.

“The fate of at least tens of thousands of Mariupol residents who were previously relocated to Russian-controlled territory is unknown,” he added.

People rest near a residential building damaged in Mariupol on April 17, 2022. Zelenskyy said the situation in Mariupol remains “as severe as possible.”

Victor | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

Zelenskyy also said that Russia has increased its intensity of fire “significantly” in the direction of Kharkiv —Ukraine’s second biggest city, as well as the Donbas and the Dnipropetrovsk region. The Donbas region is made up of the two pro-Russian self-declared “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk

“They still consider ordinary housing infrastructure normal targets for them,” he said.

Ukraine previously said Russia’s full offensive against the Donbas region has begun, with a top official saying it is the “second phase” of the war.

Zelenskyy once again called for more military aid, urging countries not to delay sending any supplies.

“If we had access to all the weapons we need, which our partners have and which are comparable to the weapons used by the Russian Federation, we would have already ended this war,” he said.

—Chelsea Ong

Ukrainians repel ‘numerous’ Russian advances in eastern Ukraine, says UK ministry

The Russian troops now attacking eastern Ukraine are dealing with the same logistics and technical troubles that bedeviled them in the first phase of the war, a British government ministry said in an intelligence assessment Tuesday night.

Ukrainian troops have repulsed “numerous attempted advances” in the eastern Donbas region, according to the UK Ministry of Defense. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a nightly video address on Monday that Moscow had striking begun Ukrainian targets in Donbas.

On April 17, a mother holds her daughter at the funeral of her husband, a Ukrainian soldier killed in the Donbas area of ​​Ukraine. Moscow is refocusing its attacks on Donbas.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Donbas is a coal- and natural gas-rich part of eastern Ukraine that contains the Donestsk and Luhansk provinces.

“Russia’s ability to progress continues to be impacted by the environmental, logistical and technical challenges that have beset them so far, combined with the resilience of the highly-motivated Ukrainian armed forces,” the UK ministry said.

CNBC was unable to independently confirm the British assessment, though Russian troops are widely known to have redeployed to Donbas since retreating from Kyiv and other areas in the west.

The press office of the Russian Ministry of Defense was not immediately available to respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

—Ted Kemp

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