ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine: United States President Joe Biden announced on Friday another package of military assistance for Ukraine as dozens of civilians were evacuated from Mariupol's besieged steel plant, the last pocket of resistance against Russian troops in the southern port city.
Worth $150 million, the latest security assistance would include artillery munitions and radars, Biden said, as Ukraine braces for fresh bombardment by Moscow's forces ahead of May 9, the day Russia celebrates the Soviet Union's victory over the Nazis in World War 2.
A senior US official said the aid included counter-artillery radars used for detecting the source of enemy fire, as well as electronic jamming equipment.
Friday's new batch brings the total value of US weaponry sent to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24 to $3.8 billion.
The president urged the US Congress to also approve a $33-billion package, including $20 billion in military aid, "to strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield and at the negotiating table."
The Pentagon, meanwhile, denied reports it helped Ukrainian forces sink the Russian warship Moskva in the Black Sea last month.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Washington had "no prior knowledge" of the plan to strike the ship, which sank leaving a still-unclear number of Russian sailors dead or missing.
While providing Ukraine with military aid, the US has sought to limit knowledge of the full extent of its assistance to avoid provoking Russia into a broader conflict beyond Ukraine.
Biden, other Group of Seven (G7) leaders, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are to meet virtually on Sunday to discuss Western support for Kyiv.
Azovstal evacuationAlso on Friday, Zelenskyy said "diplomatic options" were also underway to rescue Ukrainian soldiers from Mariupol's Azovstal factory as civilian evacuations continued.
The Russian defense ministry said 50 people were evacuated from the site, including 11 children. It added they were handed over to the United Nations and Red Cross, which were assisting in the operation, and that the "humanitarian operation" would continue on Saturday.
About 200 civilians, including children, are estimated to still be trapped in the Soviet-era tunnels and bunkers beneath the sprawling facility, along with a group of Ukrainian soldiers making their last stand.
Russia announced a daytime ceasefire at the plant for three days starting on Thursday, but the Ukrainian army said Russian "assault operations" had continued by ground and by air.
Ukraine's Azov battalion, which is leading the defense at Azovstal, said one Ukrainian fighter had been killed and six wounded when Russian forces opened fire during an attempt to evacuate people by car.
Azov battalion leader Andriy Biletsky wrote on the Telegram messaging app that the situation at the plant was critical.
"The shelling does not stop. Every minute of waiting is costing the lives of civilians, soldiers and the wounded," he added.
May 9 fearsTen weeks into a war that has killed thousands, destroyed cities and uprooted more than 13 million people, defeating the resistance at Azovstal and taking full control of strategically located Mariupol would be a major win for Moscow.
It would also be a symbolic success ahead of Sunday, when Russia marks the anniversary of its 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.
Ukrainian officials believe Moscow is planning a May 9 military parade in Mariupol, though the Kremlin has denied any such plan.
Officials have also said they expect the anniversary to coincide with an escalation of the war throughout the country.
"In the coming days, there is a high probability of rocket fire in all regions of Ukraine," Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a statement on social media. "Be careful and follow the rules of security in wartime."
The eastern Ukrainian city of Odesa will also impose a longer curfew on Sunday and Monday, Gennadiy Trukhanov, its mayor, said as will Poltava in the country's center.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the G7 meeting would come a day before "Victory Day" and the leaders would demonstrate "unity in our collective response."
"While (Russian President Vladimir Putin) expected to be marching through the streets of Kyiv, that's obviously not what's going to happen," she added.