Russia urges Ukraine fighters to lay down arms in key city

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Russia told Ukrainian forces holed up in a chemical plant in embattled Sievierodonetsk to lay down their arms by early Wednesday as it fights to maintain momentum in its battle for control of eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine is calling for an increase in Western heavy weapons after Russia committed the bulk of its firepower to the eastern Donbas region, a topic ex-pected to feature prominently at a meeting of NATO defence ministers on Wednesday in Brussels.

Ukraine says more than 500 civilians are trapped alongside soldiers inside Azot, a chemical factory where its forces have resisted weeks of Russian bombardment and assaults that have reduced much of Sievierodonetsk to ruins.

Fighters should “stop their senseless resistance and lay down arms” from 8 a.m. Moscow time (0500 GMT), Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia’s National Defence Management Centre told the Interfax news agency.

Civilians would be let out through a humanitarian corridor, Mizintsev said.

The Azot bombardment echoes earlier battles over the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where hundreds of fighters and civilians took shelter from Russian shelling. Those inside surrendered in mid-May and were taken into Russian custody.—AP