Some women and children have been evacuated from a steel plant that is the last defensive bastion in the bombed-out ruins of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, while the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, visited the President of Ukraine in the nation’s capital in a show of American support.
Russia’s offensive on Ukraine’s southern coast and the country’s eastern industrial heartland has Ukrainian forces fighting village by village and more civilians fleeing airstrikes and artillery shelling as war comes to their doorsteps.
Thousands of residents were believed to remain trapped with little food, water or medicine in the blockaded Mariupol. The United Nations was working to negotiate the evacuation of up to 1,000 civilians who were holed up with some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters under a sprawling Soviet-era steel plant that is the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.
Images released early Sunday by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office showed Pelosi in kyiv with a congressional delegation that included Reps. Jason Crow, Jim McGovern, Gregory Meeks and Adam Schiff. The visit was not previously announced.
In a video later released by Pelosi’s office, the speaker and Zelensky thanked each other for their support in the war.
“We will win and we will win together,” Zelensky said.
Pelosi added: “We are here until victory is achieved.”
‘Your fight is everyone’s fight’
“We think we visited to thank you for your fight for freedom,” said Pelosi, second in line to the US presidency after vice president and the highest-ranking US leader to visit Ukraine since the start of war.
“We are on the border of freedom and their fight is a fight for everyone. Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is over,” Pelosi added.
“Our delegation traveled to kyiv to send an unequivocal and resounding message to the entire world: the United States stands firmly with Ukraine,” he said in a statement issued on Sunday.
The delegation continued their journey in southeastern Poland, and Pelosi said they would then visit the capital, Warsaw, to meet with President Andrzej Duda and other top officials. Poland has received more than three million refugees from Ukraine since Russia launched its war on February 24.
“We hope to thank our Polish allies for their dedication and humanitarian efforts,” he said.
Russian forces have embarked on a major military operation to seize significant parts of southern and eastern Ukraine following their failure to capture the capital. Mariupol is a major target due to its strategic location near the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Two groups of civilians left the residential area around the Azovstal steelworks in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday.
The ministry said a total of 46 civilians had left the area and received food and shelter. Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters and some civilians are believed to be holed up in the vast plant following the Russian siege of the port city. Many efforts to organize a ceasefire allowing residents to leave the city have collapsed, with Moscow and kyiv repeatedly blaming each other.
Meanwhile, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti said on Saturday that 19 adults and six children had been taken from the Azovstal steelworks, but gave no further details.
‘These are women and children’
A senior official from the Azov Regiment, the Ukrainian unit defending the plant, said 20 civilians were evacuated during a ceasefire, although it was not clear if he was referring to the same group. There was no UN confirmation.
“They are women and children,” Sviatoslav Palamar said in a video posted on the regiment’s Telegram channel. He also called for the evacuation of the wounded: “We do not know why they are not taken away and their evacuation to the territory controlled by Ukraine is not discussed.”
Ukraine has blamed the failure of numerous previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian bombardment.
UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu said the world organization was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and kyiv over the Mariupol evacuations, but could not provide details of the ongoing effort “due to the complexity and fluidity of the operation.” .
Abreu did not confirm the video posted on social media allegedly showing UN-branded vehicles in Mariupol.
In the town of Lyman in the Donetsk region, where at least half the population has fled Russian bombing, around 20 elderly people and children with bags in their hands along with their dogs and cats boarded a minivan marked with a placard. that said “evacuation of children” in Ukrainian. . It sped towards the city of Dnipro as explosions could be heard in the distance.
Free us from what? Our lives?’
The liberators have come and have freed us from what? Of our lives? said Nina Mihaylenko, a professor of Russian language and literature, referring to the Russian forces.
Some 100,000 people are believed to still be in the port city, including civilians who took refuge with some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters under the sprawling Soviet-era steel plant that is the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians. .
Details about the extent of Saturday’s evacuations and the possibility of more on Sunday were unclear given the number of parties involved in the negotiations and the volatile situation on the ground.
Zelensky delivers speech partially in Russian
In his late-night video address Saturday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky switched to Russian to urge Russian troops not to fight in Ukraine, saying even his generals expect thousands more to die.
The president warned that Russia was “assembling additional forces for new attacks against our military in the east of the country.” and accused Moscow of recruiting new soldiers “with little motivation and little combat experience” so that units destroyed early in the war can return to battle.
“But why do Russian soldiers need this? Why do their families need this?” Zelensky said in Russian.
“Each Russian soldier can still save his own life,” Zelensky said. “It is better for you to survive in Russia than to perish on our land.”