Some Ukrainians evacuated as Russia tightens grip on Mariupol plant

  • Civilians trapped in steel mills under Russian siege
  • Two buses leave with evacuees; more than expected
  • The Kremlin: The Victory Day will be celebrated in Mariupol
  • EU adjusts sanctions plan to gain control of eastern countries
  • Western leaders will hold a phone call with Zelensky on Sunday

Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukraine said only 50 civilians were evacuated from a bombed steel plant in the city of Mariupol on Friday, accusing Russia of violating a truce aimed at allowing all those trapped below the plant to leave after weeks of siege. .

Mariupol suffered the most devastating bombardment of the 10-week war, and the sprawling Soviet-era Azovstal Factory is the last part of the city – a strategic southern port on the Sea of ​​Azov – still in the hands of Ukrainian fighters.

Ukrainian officials said Russia has intensified its attacks on Azovstal in hopes of capturing it by Monday, when Moscow celebrates Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

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The UN-brokered evacuation of some of the hundreds of civilians who had taken shelter in a network of tunnels and bunkers under the factory began last weekend before the renewed fighting ended.

50 women, children and elderly people were evacuated from the factory on Friday afternoon, said Irina Vereshuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, adding that the operation would continue on Saturday. She said the Russian side is constantly violating the local ceasefire, making the evacuation process very slow. Read more

Russia has confirmed the number of evacuees and plans to continue the evictions on Saturday, but has not commented on its accusation.

The city’s mayor estimated that 200 people were still trapped in the factory with little food or water.

Mariupol authorities said earlier that Russian forces fired on a vehicle involved in an attempt to evacuate the plant, killing a Ukrainian fighter and wounding six.

There was no immediate comment from Russia. She has previously said that humanitarian corridors exist.

Andrei Beltsky, founder of the Azov Regiment holed up in steel mills, said he was under attack and called on the United Nations and world leaders to help save everyone there.

In a video clip from the factory posted online late Thursday night, a medic from the Azov Regiment named Hassan described people dying of wounds and starvation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the blockade of Mariupol torture and said that if Russia killed civilians or soldiers who could have been released, his government would not be able to hold peace talks with Moscow.

The port, which lies between Crimea, captured by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-backed separatists the same year, is key to linking the two Russian-controlled regions and blocking key Ukrainian exports.

Almost 25 million tons of grain, needed to prevent rising prices and causing hunger worldwide, is stuck in Ukraine, said Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of the markets and trade division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Geneva.

He described the situation as “almost gruesome”.

Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian forces continue to try to control the rest of eastern Ukraine, with the Russian Defense Ministry saying they destroyed an ammunition depot in Kramatorsk and shot down two Ukrainian warplanes.

Ukraine said it had captured 11 Russian snipers in the area around its second city, Kharkiv.

It was not possible to independently verify the statements of either side about the events on the battlefield.

Moscow describes its actions as a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of the anti-Russian nationalism stoked by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched a war without provocation. More than 5 million Ukrainians have fled abroad since the invasion began.

In Mariupol, Ukraine’s General Staff said Friday morning that Russia had resumed efforts to overrun the Azovstal plant, including air support.

A member of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic forces fighting alongside the Russian army in eastern Ukraine told Reuters he believes Ukrainian forces have little strength left to defend Azovstal.

It will not last long, said the fighter, whose name was given as Alexei, speaking Thursday near the factory. He did not provide evidence for his statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Mariupol on April 21, ordering the closure of the plant and calling on the Ukrainian forces inside to disarm. Read more

Asked about Russia’s plans to celebrate World War II anniversaries in parts of Ukraine it holds, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “The time will come to celebrate Victory Day in Mariupol.”

US President Joe Biden and other Western leaders plan to hold a video call with Zelensky on Sunday, the White House said, in a display of unity ahead of Russia’s Victory Day celebration. US officials told Reuters that Biden is also expected to sign a new arms deal worth at least $100 million for Ukraine. Read more

Ukraine and its Western allies say that after failing to capture the capital, Russian forces have made slow progress on their revised goal of capturing the country’s east and south, but they may also plan to engage their western neighbor, Moldova.

Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for the recent mysterious bombings in the pro-Russian separatist segment. Read more

The toughest sanctions ever imposed on a great power have weakened Russia’s $1.8 trillion economy, and the European Union has proposed more.

But this new package, which includes an oil embargo, has faced some opposition, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban likening it to an “atomic bomb” thrown on the economy.

Three EU sources told Reuters that the European Commission had proposed giving Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic more time to adapt to the ban. Read more

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Pavel Politiuk reports. Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice, Peter Graf, Natalia Zenitz, Ronald Popesky and Reuters offices. Written by Michael Perry, Alex Richardson and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Mark Heinrich and John Stonestreet

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