Putin plans 'full control' of southern Ukraine and Donbas, top Russian general reveals

Dozens of families of relatives trapped in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol put their loved ones on loudspeaker so the world could hear what they had to say, reports ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo

Vladimir Putin is planning to take "full control" of southern Ukraine and the eastern Donbas region, a top Russian general has revealed, as Moscow claims peace talks with Kyiv have "ground to a halt".

Rustam Minnekaev said the plan is to establish a land border with Crimea, a region previously controlled by Ukraine which Russia annexed in 2014, according to Russian news agency Interfax.

Russia's Central Military District says control of southern Ukraine will provide an opportunity for the Russian army to gain access to Transnistria, a breakaway state internationally recognised as part of Moldova.

Minnekaev claimed, according to Interfax, that the Russian-speaking population in Transnistria is being oppressed.

The U.N. said allegations of killings of civilians are growing in numerous parts of Ukraine, including Chernihiv Credit: AP

Other key developments:

An image released by the UK's Ministry of Defence showed large swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine have already been taken over by Russia.

The map also showed how cities throughout Ukraine have been hit by Russian airstrikes.

In the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, its mayor, Vadym Boychenko, told ITV News that a new mass grave had been discovered in the last 24 hours in the east of the city containing "thousands" of civilians.

"They started to dig them at the beginning of April . More and more of them are appearing and we believe that in those mass grave they will be hiding their war crimes," he said.

"In these graves they're burying thousands of Mariupol people."

His comments came after fresh satellite imagery appeared to show a mass grave site containing more than 200 new graves on the north-western edge of Manhush, about 12 miles west of Mariupol, according to Maxar Technologies.

Those who have managed to escape the city - that has suffered some of the heaviest bombardment during the war - desperately tried to help get their loved ones out.

Dozens of families were left fraught after an evacuation convoy they had been expecting their relatives on never showed up.

Many put calls with their trapped loved ones on loudspeaker Credit: ITV News

They held up their phones to ITV News journalists and put their telephone conversations with trapped loved ones on loud speaker so the world would hear what they have to say. A father who had arrived expecting to greet his 10-year-old son, showed a text from him.

It read: "Dad I am waiting especially for you. We are waiting for you. Let the lord save you."

'Dad, I am waiting especially for you' Credit: ITV News

A woman who had hoped to be reunited with her mother, cried as she played her voice on loudspeaker: "I'm 78 years old. I cannot walk anymore and I want my daughter to come back to me."

An official said Russian forces are continuing to bomb a massive steel mill where the last standing Ukrainian fighters in the city are holed up, along with an estimated 1,000 civilians.

President Putin on Thursday had called off an order for Russian forces to storm the Azovstal giant steel plant and ordered them instead to block it “so that not even a fly comes through” to effectively starve them out.

The Russian leader claimed on Friday that Russia gave Ukrainian forces inside the steel plant the option to surrender, with guarantees to keep them alive with "decent treatment and medical care".

“But the Kyiv regime does not allow them to take this opportunity,” Putin claimed, according to the Kremlin.

Large holes are seen blasted into the roof of the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol Credit: Planet Labs/AP

The Azovstal plant is the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, which the Russians has blocked for nearly two weeks and declared victory over this week.

Meanwhile, Russia’s top diplomat said on Friday that talks to end the fighting in Ukraine have “ground to a halt,” because Moscow hasn’t received any response from Kyiv to its most recent set of proposals.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a press briefing: “Right now, they (talks) have ground to a halt, because another proposal we passed on to Ukrainian negotiators about five days ago, which was drawn up with their comments taken into account, remains without a response.”

Lavrov also claimed that recent statements by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his advisors suggest “they don’t need these talks at all, they have put up with their destiny.”

However, Vladimir Medinsky, Putin’s aide and Russia’s lead negotiator at the talks with Ukraine, confirmed reports that he held several lengthy conversations Friday with the head of the Ukrainian delegation. He didn’t offer any further details.

A firefighter sits on a swing next to a building destroyed by a Russian bomb in Chernihiv Credit: AP

Secretary-General of the U.N., António Guterres, will travel to Moscow next week to have a "working meeting and lunch" with President Putin and Lavrov.

The U.N. human rights chief said the body's work in Ukraine “has detailed a horror story of violations perpetrated against civilians.”

Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said international humanitarian law appears to have been not only ignore, but “seemingly tossed aside”, by Russia in Ukraine.The Geneva-based human rights office said in a statement Friday that “Russian armed forces have indiscriminately shelled and bombed populated areas, killing civilians and wrecking hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure - actions that may amount to war crimes.”

So far, its mission in Ukraine has verified 5,264 civilian casualties, including 2,345 deaths, since the war began on February 24. It said 92.3% of those were recorded in Ukrainian government-controlled territory.

Ms Bachelet, added that “the actual numbers are going to be much higher as the horrors inflicted in these areas of intense fighting such as Mariupol come to light.”

The U.N. mission has received more than 300 allegations of killings of civilians in previously occupied towns in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions.

The latest developments came as Russia abandoned its plans to take control of Kyiv and began a new offensive on the east and south of Ukraine earlier this week after facing a strong resistance around the capital.

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, noting the "success of President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people in resisting Russian forces in Kyiv", said he planned to reopen the British embassy there.

But in less encouraging news, Mr Johnson admitted to reporters in India that the war in Ukraine could continue until the end of next year, according to his intelligence officials.

He said "the only option" Putin now has is "to continue to try to use his appalling grinding approach, led by artillery, trying to grind the Ukrainians down".

"And he's very close to securing a land bridge in Mariupol now. The situation is, I'm afraid, unpredictable at this stage. We just got to be realistic about that."