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Russia has started its expected major new offensive in eastern Ukraine, President Zelenskyy has said.

Vladimir Putin’s forces have attacked a boomerang-shaped front that stretches more than 300 miles as part of a full-scale ground offensive to take control of the Donbas region.

The stepped-up assaults began on Monday and focused on Donetsk and Luhansk in Donbas, with Russian forces trying to advance in several areas.

Russia said it struck several areas with missiles, including the north-eastern city of Kharkiv as well as areas around Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro, west of the Donbas.

At least three people were killed and 16 were wounded in shelling in Kharkiv on Tuesday, regional governor Oleh Synehubov has said.

Moscow’s troops also seized control of the town of Kreminna in the Donbas on Monday, according to Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai.

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The capturing of the town takes the Russians a step closer to their apparent goal of encircling Ukrainian troops in the region by advancing on them from the north and south, before squeezing them against territory held by Moscow’s troops to the east.

It comes after Russia’s defence ministry claimed its anti-aircraft forces downed a Ukrainian MiG-29 jet in Donetsk overnight.

The ministry said the jet was brought down as Russian missile and artillery forces struck 1,260 targets in Ukraine over the past 24 hours.

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  • Russia dropping ‘bunker-buster’ bombs on Mariupol steel plant, claims Ukrainian official

Meanwhile, Russian-backed separatist forces are trying to storm the Azovstal plant in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the RIA news agency quoted separatist spokesperson Eduard Basurin as saying.

Mariupol is expected to fall as Ukraine’s last pocket of resistance there is made up of a few thousand fighters holed up in the steel plant.

Russia later told the fighters inside to surrender by noon Moscow time (10am UK time), with the defence ministry saying: "All who lay down their arms are guaranteed to remain alive."

Russia’s defence ministry later said it had opened up a corridor for Ukrainian forces who wanted to take up the offer to lay down their arms and safely leave the steel works.

Securing Mariupol would free up Russian troops to move elsewhere in the Donbas, deprive Ukraine of a vital port, and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, seized from Ukraine from 2014.

Kremlin wants to ‘liberate’ Donbas region

Moscow’s forces have been repositioning and reinforcing for several weeks after being thwarted in their attempt to capture the capital Kyiv.

Russia has declared the capture of the Donbas to be its main goal in the war since its assault on the capital failed.

The Kremlin has said it wants to "liberate" the region and pro-Russian separatist fighters have been battling Ukraine’s military in the area since 2014.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Moscow is starting a new stage of the war, telling India Today it will be a "very important moment of this entire special operation".

Capturing the Donbas region would give President Putin a vital area of Ukraine and a badly needed victory to present to the Russian people.

Russia’s casualties have been mounting and Western sanctions are causing economic hardship, though Mr Putin has claimed the "strategy of the economic blitz has failed".

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address on Monday: "The Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time.

"A significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive.

"No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day."

Analysis: Battle for Donbas could be turning point – and it’s a battle both sides need to win

Oleksiy Arestovych, an aide to the Ukrainian president, has said Russia’s new offensive will fail because Moscow’s forces lack the strength to break through Ukrainian defences.

He said Russian forces were trying to find "sensitive spots" in Ukraine’s defences but added: "Their offensive will fail – I give you a 99% guarantee – they simply do not have enough strength."

"The battle for Donbas, which was announced and apparently began yesterday, is under way and is going very cautiously. The battle will not go in Russia’s favour," he said on national television.

Mr Arestovych spoke after several Ukrainian officials said a "new phase of the war" had begun.

Meanwhile, three people were wounded after Ukrainian forces struck a village near Russia’s border with Ukraine, according to the governor of the Russian province of Belgorod.

It was not immediately clear whether the strike referred to by governor Vyacheslav Gladkov in posts on messaging app Telegram was carried out by artillery, mortars, missiles or was an aerial attack.

Mariupol on the brink of falling under Russian control

It comes as the city of Mariupol, which has been pummelled for weeks, appears on the brink of finally coming under total Russian control.

Bunker-busting bombs are reportedly being dropped on the Azovstal plant where the last remaining fighters, and upwards of 1,000 civilians, have taken refuge in underground shelters.

"Russian occupational forces, and their proxy… know about the civilians, and they keep willingly firing on the factory," said the commander of the Azov Regiment of the National Guard Denys Prokopenko.

Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk has demanded an "urgent humanitarian corridor" for women, children and civilians.

If Russia takes the city it could free up even more troops for the battle in the east and crucially achieve one of its key aims – creating a land corridor from Crimea, through Mariupol, to Donbas.

Read more: Boy, 4, says his father ‘is a hero’ as forces fight ‘to the end’ in Mariupol

Russia’s defence ministry also claimed to have hit hundreds of military targets in Ukraine overnight into Monday.

At least seven people were killed on Monday in the western city Lviv, near the Polish border, which has been a relatively safe haven so far and attracted refugees from across the country.

Three military infrastructure facilities that weren’t in use were hit, as well as a "barbaric" attack on a civilian service station, said regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy.

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Lviv’s proximity to Poland and the EU has made it a major gateway for the large amounts of weaponry donated by the US and European allies.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Ukrainian media reported a series of explosions along the front line in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, with shelling taking place in nearby Marinka, Slavyansk, and Kramatorsk.

Local officials also said explosions were heard in Kharkiv in the northeast of Ukraine, Mykolaiv in the south, and Zaporizhzhia in the southeast.

© Sky News 2022