Ukrainian officials on Friday countered claims made by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he will not order a ground offensive on the Mariupol steel plant where thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers remain holed up.
Kyiv said it had received intelligence that Russia is planning to deploy soldiers from its elite military units along with personnel from its Federal Security Service - a successor intelligence agency to Russia's infamous KGB - to continue its assault on the Azovstal steel plant.
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"It's true that they might abandon the idea of a large-scale assault on Azovstal. But according to our data, they plan to deploy Russian Guards and other parts of the military apparatus, including the Federal Security Service, to continue their assault on the plant and destroy our resistance," Representative of Ukraine's Central Intelligence Directorate, Vadym Skibitskyi, said according to a translation by a local news outlet.
His comments come one day after Putin said he didn't believe an attack on the steel plant was "necessary" and instead directed a blockade be put on the site to encourage Ukrainian forces to surrender.
"One does not have to climb into these catacombs and crawl there underground around these industrial objects," he said. "Block this industrial zone in such a way that even a fly could not fly through."
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The Metallurgical steel plant, with its deep underground tunnels, has become a beacon for resistance in Mariupol and is believed to be holding 1,000 civilians and Ukrainian soldiers.
Moscow claimed victory over the strategically important port city, but the Pentagon continues to assess that Mariupol is still contested.
Additionally, Putin suggested that those who voluntarily surrender will be "guarantee[d] life and dignified treatment."
Despite Putin's Thursday claims, Russian forces have continued to pummel the site with a bombing campaign.
"Every day they drop several bombs on Azovstal, despite false promises not to touch the defenders," Petro Andryushchenko, adviser to Mariupol's mayor, told the Associated Press Friday.
"Fighting, shelling, bombing do not stop," he added.