Russian forces are now in control of most of Mariupol but some fighters and civilians are holding out in a steel plant (Picture: AP)
The final battle for Mariupol is looming after Russia ordered Ukrainian fighters to lay down their weapons.
Russian forces have all but taken control of the strategic port city after several weeks of brutal bombing which has killed thousands of civilians and reduced buildings to dust.
The last remaining Ukrainian fighters are holding out in the Azovstal steel plant, a complex of tunnels and buildings which Russian forces are yet to break.
As many as 1,000 civilians are also reportedly sheltering in the vast industrial site.
A four-year-old identified only as Alice is reportedly among the women and children stranded between Kremlin troops and what would be their first major success of the invasion.
In a video shared by Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to Volodymyr Zelensky, the girl says she misses her grandmother, wants to be evacuated and simply: ‘I want to go home.’
Russia’s defence ministry has issued an ultimatum to the surrounded troops tonight: surrender tomorrow or face the consequences.
It said it will observe a ceasefire at 11am GMT and told the fighters to put down their guns then.
Ukrainian officials said the bunker was hit by airstrikes yesterday, despite civilians sheltering there (Picture: Mariupol City Council)
Four-year-old Alice is said to be among the civilians hiding with Ukraine’s last troops still standing in Mariupol (Picture: @Podolyak_M)
Ukrainian sources also said Russia was using bunker-busting bombs – powerful missiles which penetrate the earth and send a shockwave downwards – on the site despite knowing civilians are hiding there.
Mr Podolyak said: ‘The world watches the murder of children online and remains silent.’
Russia has denied targeting civilians throughout the campaign despite evidence of reckless shelling and war crimes in Mariupol and beyond.
Last night Mr Zelensky told his country that Russia’s expect offensive to capture the Donbas in its entirety is under way.
The Kremlin has recast the purpose of the invasion as the ‘liberation’ of Ukraine’s eastern region after failing to take Kyiv.
Pro-Moscow proxies have held parts of the area – made up Donetsk and Luhansk – since 2014 but the land they control does not cover all of the historic territory.
Russian forces are now in control of buildings recently used as strongholds for Ukrainian troops (Picture: AP)
The Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian military unit with far-right ties, said bombs capable of penetrating the ground had been used (Picture: Reuters)
The president said a ‘significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive’.
He added: ‘No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day.’
Earlier on Tuesday, Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian forces are focusing their efforts on taking full control of the Donbas region.
They said in a statement: ‘The occupiers made an attempt to break through our defences along nearly the entire frontline.’
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].
For more stories like this, check our news page.