The last women and children evacuated from a Ukrainian steel mill

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces kept up their bombardment of southern Ukraine, hitting the main Black Sea port of Odessa with cruise missiles and shelling the steel mill off the coast of Mariupol, where Ukrainian fighters were trapped under land after the last civilians were killed. taken to a safe place.

Moscow aimed to complete its conquest of Mariupol in time for victory day celebrations Monday. But he was facing strong resistance elsewhere.

In a sign of the unexpectedly effective defense that has sustained the fighting in its 11th week, Ukraine’s army razed Russian positions on a Black Sea island that was captured in the early days of the war and has become a symbol of endurance.

Western military analysts also said a Ukrainian counteroffensive was advancing around the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv. Ukraine’s military said retreating Russian forces destroyed three bridges on a road northeast of the city to try to stop the Ukrainian advance.

The largest European conflict since World War II it has become a punitive war of attrition that has killed thousands of peopleit forced millions to flee their homes and destroyed large parts of some cities.

Ukrainian leaders warned that the attacks would only get worse in the run-up to Victory Day, when Russia celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 with military parades. Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to want to claim some kind of triumph in Ukraine when he addresses troops in Red Square on Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his people “embodied the spirit of those who prevailed during World War II.” He accused 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 as the United States and the United Kingdom commemorate the Allied victory. in Europe. .

The heaviest fighting in recent days has taken place in eastern Ukraine, where the two sides are entrenched in a fierce battle to capture or recapture territory. Moscow’s offensive there has been focused on Donbas, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

The governor of the Luhansk region, one of two that make up Donbas, said a Russian attack destroyed a school in the town of Bilogorivka, where 90 people were seeking safety in the basement. Governor Serhiy Haidai, who posted photos of the burning debris on Telegram, said 30 people had been rescued. Emergency services later reported that two bodies had been found and more could still be buried under the rubble. Rescue work was suspended overnight but was due to resume on Sunday.

Haidai also said that two boys aged 11 and 14 were killed by Russian shelling in the town of Pryvillia, while two girls aged 8 and 12 and a 69-year-old woman were injured.

Moscow has also sought to sweep into southern Ukraine both to cut off the country from the sea and to create a corridor to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, long home to Russian troops. But he has struggled to achieve those goals.

On Saturday, six Russian cruise missiles fired from planes struck Odessa, where a curfew is in effect until Tuesday morning. Videos posted on social media showed thick black smoke billowing over the Black Sea port city as sirens wailed.

The Odessa city council said four of the missiles hit a furniture company, with shock waves and debris severely damaging high-rise apartment buildings. The other two missiles hit the Odessa airport, where the runway had already been destroyed in an earlier Russian attack.

Air raid sirens sounded multiple times early Sunday, the city council said.

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. An image taken early Saturday by Planet Labs PBC showed that most of the island’s buildings had been destroyed by Ukrainian drone strikes, as well as what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft against the island’s north beach.

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 Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters made a last stand against Russia’s complete takeover of the strategically important city, which would give Moscow a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Ukraine during a 2014 invasion.

Satellite photos taken on Friday by Planet Labs PBC showed extensive devastation at the Azovstal coastal steel plant, the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the city. The buildings had holes in their roofs, including one under which hundreds of fighters they were probably hiding.

After rescuers evacuated the last civilians on Saturday, Zelenskyy said in his late-night speech that the focus would be on extracting the wounded and doctors: “Of course, if everyone follows through on agreements. Of course, if there are no lies.”

He added that work would also continue on Sunday to secure humanitarian corridors so that residents of Mariupol and surrounding towns can leave.

The situation at the plant has drawn the world’s attention, with the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross desperately trying to organize evacuations.

In recent days, fighters inside described pulling out small groups of civilians who had been hiding there for weeks. The fighters said via social media that both they and the Russians had used a white flag system to stop the fighting and remove civilians.

But Russian forces have intensified fire on the plant with mortars, artillery, truck-mounted rocket systems, aerial bombardment and gunfire from the sea, hampering evacuation operations.

Three Ukrainian fighters were reportedly killed and six more wounded during an evacuation attempt on Friday. Capt. Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, said his troops waved white flags and accused Russian forces of firing an anti-tank weapon at a vehicle.

It is unclear what will happen to the estimated 2,000 fighters in Azovstal, both those still in combat and the hundreds believed to be wounded. In recent days, the Ukrainian government has contacted international organizations to try to guarantee them safe passage. The fighters have repeatedly promised not to surrender.

Zelenskyy said officials were trying to find a way to evacuate them. He acknowledged the difficulty, but said: “We don’t lose hope, we don’t stop. Every day we are looking for some diplomatic option that can work.”

Russian forces have investigated the plant and even reached its maze of tunnels, according to Ukrainian officials.

Kharkiv, which was the first Soviet capital in Ukraine and had a population of about 4 million before the war, remained a key target of Russian bombing in the northeast. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday that the Russian military also hit large arms shipments from the United States and other Western countries with Iskander missiles in the region. His claims could not be independently verified.

But Western military analysts said Ukrainian forces were making progress in securing positions around the city. The Ukrainian army said it has retook control of five villages and part of a sixth.

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

Zelenskyy expressed outrage at Russian missile strikes that destroyed a museum in the Kharkiv region and hit Odessa, “where almost every street has something memorable, something historic.” He said that Russian forces have destroyed or damaged about 200 cultural heritage sites.

“Every day of this war, the Russian military does something that leaves you speechless,” he said. “But then the next day, he does something that makes you feel that way in a new way.”


Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, 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.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine:

Leave a Comment