STORY: Russia claimed on Saturday (April 16) its forces had almost completely seized the port town, but the Ukrainian defence minister on Monday disputed this claim saying the situation was "extremely" difficult, but Mariupol was not under full Russian control.
Capturing Mariupol, the main port in the Donbas region, would be a strategic prize for Russia, connecting territory held by pro-Russian separatists in the east with the Crimea region that Moscow annexed in 2014.
"To be honest, we are not well," said one resident named Olga. "I have mental problems after air strikes, that's for sure. I'm really scared. When I hear a plane I just run."
Major Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine's 36th marine brigade which is still fighting in Mariupol, appealed for help in a letter to Pope Francis on Monday, saying women and children were trapped among fighters in the city's steel works.
No fewer than 1,000 civilians were hiding in underground shelters beneath the vast Azovstal steel plant, the city council said on Monday.