Russian forces in Ukraine attempted on Saturday to storm a steelworks housing soldiers and civilians in the southern city of Mariupol in a bid to crush the last corner of resistance in a place of deep symbolic and strategic value for Moscow, Ukrainian officials said.

The reported assault on the eve of Orthodox Easter came after the Kremlin claimed its army had seized the entire destroyed city, except for the Azovstal factory, and Russian forces pounded other cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine.

A three-month-old baby was among six people killed when Russia fired cruise missiles at the Black Sea port city of Odessa, Ukrainian officials said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, said he would meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in kyiv on Sunday. He announced the visit at a press conference and did not immediately share further details. The White House declined to comment.

Zelensky also lamented the death of the child in Odessa. “The war started when this baby was a month old. Can you imagine what is happening? he said. “They’re just bastards…I have no other words for that.”

The fate of the Ukrainians in the sprawling seaside resort of Mariupol was not immediately clear.

As the battle for the port continued, Russia claimed to have taken control of several villages elsewhere in the eastern Donbass region and destroyed 11 Ukrainian military targets overnight, including three artillery depots. Russian attacks also hit populated areas.

WATCH | Russia rejects ceasefire in Ukraine, civilians bear war wounds:

Russia rejects ceasefire in Ukraine, civilians bear war wounds

WARNING: This video contains graphic footage | Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia had rejected a proposed Easter truce in the war that has killed thousands of civilians and left many more with life-threatening injuries. 2:40

Associated Press reporters observed shelling in residential areas of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Regional Governor Oleh Sinehubov said three people were killed. In the Donbass region of Luhansk, Governor Serhiy Haidai said six people died in the shelling of a village, Gorskoi.

National curfew

While British officials said Russian forces had not gained significant new ground, Ukrainian officials announced a nationwide curfew ahead of Easter Sunday, a sign of the disruption of the war and the threat to the whole country.

Orthodox Christians receive Easter blessings at a church in Lviv, western Ukraine, on Saturday. The bread they brought to church was also blessed for the first meal they will eat on Easter Sunday. Many Ukrainians cling to traditions to help them cope with war. (Jean-Francois Benoit/Radio-Canada)

Mariupol has been a key Russian objective since the invasion began on February 24. Completing its capture would give Russia its biggest victory yet, after a nearly two-month siege that reduced much of the city to a smoking ruin.

It would deprive Ukrainians of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere and establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014. Russian-backed separatists control parts of Donbass.

An adviser to Ukraine’s presidential office, Oleksiy Arestovich, told a briefing on Saturday that Russian forces had resumed airstrikes on the Azovstal factory and were trying to storm it. A direct attempt to take the plant would represent a reversal of an order Russian President Vladimir Putin had given two days earlier.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin on Thursday that all of Mariupol except Azovstal had been “liberated”. At the time, Putin ordered him not to send troops into the factory, but rather blockade it, an apparent attempt to starve those inside and force them to surrender.

Ukrainian officials estimated that around 2,000 of their soldiers were inside the plant, along with civilians sheltering in its underground tunnels. Arestovich said they were trying to counter new attacks.

More than 100,000 people – compared to a pre-war population of around 430,000 – are believed to have remained in Mariupol with little food, water or heating, according to Ukrainian authorities, who estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have were killed in the city during the Russian war. blockade.

2nd apparent mass grave site seen

Satellite images released this week showed what appeared to be a second mass grave near Mariupol, and local officials accused Russia of burying thousands of civilians to cover up the massacre taking place there. The Kremlin did not comment on the satellite images.

Ukrainian officials had said they would try again on Saturday to evacuate women, children and the elderly from Mariupol, but like previous plans to get civilians out of the city, that failed. Petro Andryushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said Russian forces had not allowed buses organized by Ukraine to take residents to Zaporizhzhia, a town 227 kilometers to the northwest.

Attack on Odessa

During the attack on Odessa, Russian troops fired at least six missiles, according to Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister. Defense forces repelled some of the rockets, but at least one hit, he said.

“City residents heard explosions in different areas,” Gerashchenko said via Telegram post. “Apartment buildings were hit. We already know a victim. He burned in his car in a courtyard of one of the buildings.”

Smoke can be seen billowing from a residential building in Odessa, Ukraine, hit on Saturday, as emergency services arrive at the scene. (Reuters)

Presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak later reported that the three-month-old baby was among five dead.

In his nightly video address, Zelensky lamented all casualties of war, noting that the Easter holiday commemorates the resurrection of Christ after his death by crucifixion.

“We believe in the victory of life over death,” he said. “No matter how fierce the fighting, there is no way death will destroy life. Everyone knows that. Every Christian knows that.”