All women, children and elderly evacuated from Mariupol steel plant as Russian attacks continue – The Boston Globe

Western military analysts said a Ukrainian counteroffensive was also moving around the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, even as it remained a key target of Russian bombing. The Ukrainian military said it has retook control of five villages and part of a sixth near Kharkiv, a hotly contested city.

As Russia’s Monday holiday commemorating Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II approached, cities in Ukraine braced for an expected surge in Russian attacks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged residents numbed by more than 10 weeks of war to heed warnings of air strikes.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday that Zelenskyy and his people “embodied the spirit of those who prevailed during World War II.” He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to “twist history to try to justify his brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine.”

“As war breaks out again in Europe, we must increase our resolve to resist those who now seek to manipulate historical memory to further their own ambitions,” Blinken said in a statement issued as the United States and the United Kingdom marked the Allied victory in Europe 77 years ago.

The most intense fighting in recent days has been in eastern Ukraine, where the two sides are entrenched in a fierce race to capture or recapture territory. Moscow’s offensive in eastern Ukraine has focused on reclaiming the industrial region of Donbas, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014 and occupy some areas.

Moscow has also sought to sweep southern Ukraine both to cut off the country from the sea and to connect its territory with the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova, long home to Russian troops. But he has struggled to achieve those goals.

On Saturday, six Russian cruise missiles fired from planes fell in the Odessa region, where authorities have a curfew until Tuesday morning. Videos posted on social media showed thick black smoke rising over Odessa with sirens wailing in the background.

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed Ukraine targeting the Russian-controlled Snake Island in an attempt to impede Russia’s efforts to control the Black Sea. A satellite image taken early Saturday by Planet Labs PBC showed what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft against the north beach of the island.

The image corresponds to a Ukrainian military video showing a drone hitting the Russian ship and engulfing it in flames. Snake Island, located about 35 kilometers (20 miles) offshore, featured in a memorable incident early in the war when Ukrainian border guards stationed there defied Russian orders to surrender, allegedly using colorful language.

In this context, the Ukrainian fighters made a last stand to prevent a complete capture of Mariupol. Securing the strategically important Sea of ​​Azov port would give Moscow a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine during a 2014 invasion.

New satellite photos analyzed by the AP showed widespread devastation at a sprawling steel plant by the sea that is the last corner of the Ukrainian resistance in the city. Buildings at the Azovstal plant, including one under which hundreds of fighters and civilians are likely hiding, had large holes in the roof, according to images taken Friday by Planet Labs PBC.

“The president’s order has been fulfilled: all women, children and elderly people have been evacuated from Azovstal (steel mill),” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Saturday, without elaborating. “This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation has been completed.”

The Russian news agency Tass reported that 50 civilians were evacuated from the plant on Saturday. A similar number came out on Friday. The latest evacuees followed roughly 500 others who were allowed to leave the plant and other parts of the city in recent days.

The evacuation of civilians from the plant has drawn the world’s attention, with the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross trying desperately to organize the exits.

In recent days, fighters inside the plant described pulling out small groups of civilians who had been hiding for weeks. The fighters issued a statement on social media saying that they and the Russians have used a white flag system to stop the fighting and remove civilians.

But Russian forces have intensified fire on the steel mill in recent days with mortars, artillery, truck-mounted rocket systems, aerial bombardment and shelling from the sea, hampering evacuation operations.

It is unclear what will happen to the Ukrainian fighters there, both those still in combat and the hundreds believed to be wounded. In recent days, the Ukrainian government has contacted a variety of international organizations to try to ensure safe passage for them.

The flight of the civilians puts new pressure on Ukraine to find a way out for the fighters, who have vowed not to surrender. Russian forces had already probed the plant and even reached its maze of tunnels, according to Ukrainian officials.

The Ukrainian government has asked international organizations to also help evacuate fighters defending the plant. According to the most recent Russian estimate, approximately 2,000 Ukrainian fighters remained at the Azovstal steelworks. They have repeatedly refused to give up.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “influential states” were involved in the efforts to rescue the soldiers, though he did not name any.

“We are also working on diplomatic options to save our troops that are still in Azovstal,” he said in his late-night video address early Saturday.

The relief of the evacuees was tempered by the memory of those left behind.

“They urgently need our help,” said Serhii Kuzmenko, 31, who fled with his wife, 8-year-old daughter and four others from their bunker, leaving 30 others behind. “We need to get them out.”

As they pounded the plant, Russian forces were struggling to make significant gains elsewhere after nearly two and a half months of a ruinous war that has killed thousands, forced millions to flee Ukraine and leveled large swaths of some cities.

Kharkiv, which was the first Soviet capital in Ukraine and had a prewar population of around 1.4 million, remained a key target of Russian bombing in the northeast. But Western military analysts said Ukrainian forces were making progress in securing positions around the city.

A Washington-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, said in its most recent assessment that Ukraine’s military could push Russian forces “out of Kharkiv artillery range in the coming days,” providing a respite for the city. and an opportunity to build defenders’ momentum “into a successful and broader counteroffensive.”

In other developments, a Russian missile on Saturday destroyed a Ukrainian national museum dedicated to the life and work of an 18th-century philosopher, the local council said. He posted photos on Facebook showing the Gregory Skovoroda museum engulfed in flames.

As an indication of its importance to Ukraine’s cultural heritage, the image of Skovoroda adorns a Ukrainian banknote. The museum in Skovorodynivka is located near the Russian border in the Kharkiv region, where fighting has been fierce.

Zelenskyy said in his late-night speech that the “extraordinary strength of the Ukrainian position” lies in all countries of the free world understanding what is at stake in the ruinous war.

“We are defending ourselves from an attack of tyranny that wants to destroy everything that freedom gives people and states,” the Ukrainian leader said. “And such a struggle, for freedom and against tyranny, is fully understandable for any society, in any corner of the globe.”

At the United Nations in New York, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted its first-ever statement on Ukraine on Friday, expressing “strong support” for the secretary-general’s efforts to find a peaceful solution to the 10-year “dispute.” weeks.

Talks to end the war have stalled. Zelenskyy said on Friday that he would be open to negotiations with Russia, but only if Moscow withdraws its forces to pre-invasion positions.

“In that situation, we will be able to start discussing things normally,” Zelenskyy said at a meeting at London’s Chatham House think tank. Ukraine could then use “diplomatic channels” to take back its territory, he said.


Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Zaporizhzhia, Inna Varenytsia and David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.

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