Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said on TV Wednesday that he has lost contact with Ukrainian military forces that have been holed up in the Azovstal metallurgical plant (pictured) for weeks, after Russian troops began storming the facility. Photo by Sergie Ilnitsky/EPA-EFE
May 4 (UPI) -- The mayor of Mariupol said on television Wednesday that he has lost contact with Ukrainian forces in the besieged city's steel factory.
"Today, there are heavy battles on the territory of our fortress, on the territory of Azovstal. Our brave guys are defending this fortress, but it is very difficult, because heavy artillery and tanks are firing all over the fortress," Mariuopol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said on Ukrainian TV,
He added: "Aviation is working, ships have approached and are also firing on the fortress," adding that children were among the civilians still trapped inside.
For weeks, civilians and some Ukrainian troops have been holed up at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, which has been surrounded by Russian military forces.
Dozens of civilians were evacuated from the strategic port city Tuesday as Russian forces finally stormed the facility.
"Unfortunately, there is no connection with the guys today, there is no possibility to reach out to them to understand what is happening, whether they are safe or not," Boichenko said.
"We pray for our heroic defenders and thank them for the heroic actions they are doing today for our entire country. They restrained the enemy and gave us more time to prepare."
Denys Shlega, a Ukrainian National Guard commander, said "the enemy is trying to storm the Azovstal plant with significant forces using armored vehicles," the New York Post reported.
Russia began Wednesday by firing incendiary rockets into Kharkiv, igniting a large fire in a civilian neighborhood Ukraine's second-largest city, while also ramping up missile attacks across the battle-scarred country.
More than 20 people were killed in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian officials said, and Russian cruise missiles targeted infrastructure in Lviv in western Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials say that Russian forces are preparing for a May 9 Victory Day parade in Mariupol. Victory Day is held every May 9 in Russia to celebrate the Allied victory in World War II over Nazi Germany.
Mariupol has been one of Moscow's top targets since the fighting began Feb. 24.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Wednesday that London has ordered new sanctions for Russia, including a ban on exports of services like accounting and public relations.
"Doing business with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's regime is morally bankrupt and helps fund a war machine that is causing untold suffering across Ukraine," Truss said in a statement.
"Cutting Russia's access to British services will put more pressure on the Kremlin and ultimately help ensure Putin fails in Ukraine."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also encouraged international businesses still operating in Russia to leave.
"The aggressor has to be isolated. Full, complete economic isolation. That will allow Ukraine to fight to defend our rights," Zelensky said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "Leaving the Russian market is a must."
Earlier Wednesday, the European Union proposed a package of new sanctions, including a total ban on importing Russian oil -- something that U.S. President Joe Biden did in March.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed to European Parliament that cutting off Russian oil will be a challenge because so many EU nations depend on it.
"But we simply have to work on it," she said.
The proposed oil ban would phase in over several months.
Lyubov Ivanovna Vlasenko, 70, (L) and her husband Gennady Ivanovich Sergeev, 74, eat lunch in the basement-turned bunker moments after Russian artillery landed approximately 800 meters away in the Pyatikhatki district, of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 1, 2022. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo