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Biden signs $40 billion Ukraine aid package as Russia steps up eastern assault

President Joe Biden signed a $40 billion package in new military, economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine on Saturday, less than 24 hours after Russia won a victory in the months-long battle for the Asovstal steel mill from Mariupol.

The aid package, which will help Ukraine replenish US stocks of military hardware, provide subsistence allowance to troops and aid to refugees, was signed by the president during a visit to South Korea, where he met his counterpart, President Yoon Suk-yeol.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, thanked Biden for the “extra support” in a tweet. “Rejoice in a powerful new defense aid,” he wrote. “Today it is more necessary than ever.”

It came as Russia continued its assault on eastern Ukraine on Saturday, after claiming to have captured the Azovstal steelworks in Mairupol, the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the nearly besieged southern city. of three months.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Friday that the sprawling site had been “fully liberated”, adding that 2,439 defenders had surrendered in recent days, including 531 in the final group.

The dwindling group of outgunned fighters had held out, drawing Russian airstrikes, artillery, and tank fire. Although the Ukrainian government has not commented on the capture, it had previously ordered its remaining forces to abandon the defense of the plant and flee.

Russian authorities have threatened to investigate some of them for war crimes and bring them to justice.

Paying tribute to the fighters, Zelenskyy called them “absolutely heroic people”, in an interview with Ukrainian television. He added that the conflict could only be resolved through diplomacy, but hinted that kyiv was ready for a long war with Russia.

“The war will be bloody, there will be more battles,” he said. “But the end will certainly be in diplomacy, because there are things that we can’t finish other than at the negotiating table.

Mariupol has endured some of the fiercest battles of the conflict so far, with around 100,000 people remaining out of a pre-war population of 450,000, many of whom went without food, water or electricity for weeks.

Its loss deprives Ukraine of a vital seaport and finally completes a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

It has also allowed Russia to move the majority of its troops away from the city and build up its forces further north, where its offensive in Ukraine’s Lugansk region continues.

Kremlin-backed separatists have controlled parts of the region since 2014 and Moscow wants to expand the territory under its control to include the entire Donbas region, made up of Lugansk and Donetsk.

Serhiy Gaidai, the region’s regional governor, said in a social media post that Russia was trying to destroy the city of Severodonetsk and fighting was taking place on its outskirts.

The head of the military administration of nearby Kharkiv also said Russian forces shelled several towns overnight, injuring 20 people and killing a 66-year-old woman.

Oleh Synehubov, the regional governor, said in a post on his Telegram channel that the fiercest battles were taking place around the town of Izyum, which is on a highway connecting Kharkiv and Donetsk regions.

NBC News was unable to verify their claims.

The Russian military, meanwhile, told the Interfax news agency that it had destroyed a large arms shipment provided by Ukraine’s western allies in the Zhytomyr region west of kyiv.

Artem Grudinin, Associated press and Reuters contributed.

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