Pro-Russian forces say more people evacuated from besieged steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine

Civilians evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol arrive at a temporary accommodation center with members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN in the town of Bezimenne, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on 6 May 2022.ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/Reuters

Pro-Russian forces said 50 more people were evacuated Saturday from the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, where dozens of civilians have been trapped for weeks alongside Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Soviet-era plant.

The defense headquarters of the Russian-backed Donetsk separatists said on Telegram that a total of 176 civilians had been evacuated from the sprawling and shelled steelworks.

Reuters could not immediately verify the report.

About 50 civilians had been transferred Friday from the plant to a reception center near Bezimenne, in territory controlled by the separatists, whose forces are fighting alongside Russian troops to expand their control of much of eastern Ukraine. Dozens of civilians were also evacuated last weekend.

“Today, May 7, 50 people were evacuated from the territory of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol,” the separatists said.

Mariupol has endured the most destructive bombardment of the 10-week war. The plant is the last part of the city, a strategic southern port on the Sea of ​​Azov, which is still in the hands of Ukrainian fighters. Dozens of civilians, including women and children, have been trapped alongside them for weeks with little food, water or medicine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a late-night video address on Friday that Ukraine was working on a diplomatic effort to save defenders holed up inside the steel mill. It was unclear how many Ukrainian fighters remained there.

Defenders have vowed not to give up. Ukrainian authorities fear Russian forces may want to eliminate them on Monday, in time for Moscow’s commemorations of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Evacuations of civilians from the Azovstal plant brokered by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) began last weekend. But they were detained during the week due to renewed fighting.

The city’s mayor estimated earlier this week that 200 civilians were trapped at the plant. It was unclear how many remained.

President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Mariupol on April 21, ordered the plant closed and called for Ukrainian forces to disarm. But Russia later resumed its assault on the plant.

Asked about Russia’s plans to mark Monday’s anniversary in parts of Ukraine it owns, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday: “The time will come to mark Victory Day in Mariupol.”

Mariupol, which sits between the Crimean peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-backed separatists that year, is key to uniting the two Russian-controlled territories and blocking Ukrainian exports.

Ukraine’s general staff said on Saturday that the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine was aimed at establishing full control over the Donetsk and Lugansk regions and maintaining the land corridor between these territories and Crimea.

Russian forces also shelled settlements in the northeast near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. The strikes blew up three road bridges to stop counter-offensive actions by Ukrainian forces, the general staff said.

Russia said it destroyed a large amount of military equipment from the United States and European countries near the Bohodukhiv railway station in the Kharkiv region.

The Defense Ministry said it had targeted 18 Ukrainian military installations overnight, including three ammunition depots in Dachne, near the southern port city of Odessa.

Ukrainian forces on Saturday released footage they said showed drone strikes on a Russian landing ship and a building housing missiles on Zmiinyi (Snake) Island, a speck of land south of Odessa. He did not say when the strike occurred.

Russian air-launched missiles hit two locations near the Russian border in Ukraine’s northern Sumy region on Saturday, local governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyi said.

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

The speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, on Saturday accused Washington of coordinating military operations in Ukraine, which he said amounted to direct US involvement in military action against Russia.

US officials have said that the United States has provided intelligence to Ukraine to help counter the Russian attack, but have denied that this intelligence includes precise data on targets.

A senior Russian commander said last month that Russia planned to take full control of southern Ukraine and that this would improve Russian access to Transdniestria, a breakaway region of Moldova.

Pro-Russian separatists in Moldova said on Saturday that Transdniestria was attacked four times by suspected drones overnight near the Ukrainian border. Nearly two weeks of similar incidents reported in Transdniestria have raised international alarm that Ukraine’s war could spill over the border.

Ukraine has repeatedly denied any blame for the incidents, saying it believes Russia is staging the attacks to provoke war. Moscow has also denied fault.

In the Kharkiv region, Governor Oleh Sinegubov reported three overnight shelling attacks in the city of Kharkiv and the village of Skovorodinyvka, which started a fire that nearly destroyed the Hryhoriy Skovoroda Literary Memorial Museum.

Skovoroda was an 18th century philosopher. Sinegubov said the museum’s collection was not damaged because it had been moved to a safer location.

“The occupants can destroy the museum where Hryhoriy Skovoroda worked during the last years of his life and where he was buried. But they will not destroy our memory and values,” Sinegubov said in a social media post.

Moscow calls its actions since February 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what it calls Western-sponsored anti-Russian nationalism. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war.

Reuters drone footage and video from AZOV, a former right-wing paramilitary unit now part of Ukraine’s National Guard, showed Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant in smoke on Thursday, as well as the devastated remains of the city. dilapidated port of Ukraine.


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