Fifty other civilians, including 11 children, were rescued Friday from the tunnels under a besieged steelworks in Mariupol, where Ukrainian militants are making their last stand to prevent Moscow’s full takeover of the strategically important port city.
The Russian Interdepartmental Center for Humanitarian Aid, a Russian government agency, issued a statement saying it was among 50 people rescued from the Azovstal Steel Plant and handed over to officials from the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross eleven children.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed that 50 “women, children and the elderly” managed to evacuate the sprawling complex, and she and the Russian agency said rescue efforts were continuing on Saturday.
The fight for the last Ukrainian stronghold in a city left in ruins by the Russian attack seemed increasingly desperate amid growing speculation that President Vladimir Putin wants to end the fight for Mariupol in order to give the Russian people a triumph in time for Victory Day to present , the biggest patriotic holiday in the Russian calendar.
Some 2,000 Ukrainian militants are holed up in the vast maze of tunnels and bunkers beneath the Azovstal Steelworks, according to Russia’s latest estimates, and they have repeatedly refused to surrender. Ukraine said several hundred civilians were also trapped there, and fears for their safety have increased as fighting has intensified in recent days.
“Our colleagues are currently on the ground,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said of the recent evacuation efforts. “We are at an extremely sensitive phase of this operation and are working closely with the Ukrainian and Russian authorities.”
He declined to share details “for the safety of those we are trying to extract and of course for our own staff who are there.”
Kateryna Prokopenko, whose husband, Denys Prokopenko, commands the troops of the Azov regiment at the facility, desperately asked that the fighters be spared as well. She said they would be willing to go to a third country to wait out the war but would never surrender to Russia because that would mean “filtration camps, prison, torture and death.”
If nothing is done to save her husband and his men, they “will see it through to the end without surrendering,” she told The Associated Press on Friday as she and relatives of some regiment members drove from Italy to Poland.
It could take days to learn the details of the latest evacuations from the steel mill, as people fleeing Mariupol usually have to pass through contested areas and many checkpoints before arriving in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhia, some 230 kilometers away achieve relative safety. to the northwest.
Two previous evacuations from the plant and the city, negotiated by the UN and the Red Cross, rescued about 500 people from the steel plant and other locations in Mariupol. Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, also said Friday that 500 civilians had been rescued, but it’s not clear if that includes the previous rescue figure.
Some of the plant’s earlier evacuees spoke to AP about the horrors of being surrounded by death in the musty underground bunker with little food and water, poor medical care and dwindling hope. Some said they felt guilty for leaving others behind.
“People are literally rotting like our jackets,” said 31-year-old Serhii Kuzmenko, who, along with his wife, 8-year-old daughter and four others, fled their bunker where 30 others were left behind. “They urgently need our help. We have to get them out.”
Fighters defending the plant said on Telegram on Friday that Russian troops fired on an evacuation vehicle on the plant’s premises. They said the car drove toward civilians when it was hit by shells, killing one soldier and injuring six.
Moscow did not immediately recognize renewed fighting there on Friday.
Russia took control of Mariupol alongside the steel mill after being bombed for two months. Before Victory Day, which marks the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, municipal workers and volunteers cleaned up what remained of the city, which had a pre-war population of over 400,000 but where perhaps 100,000 civilians live with little food, water, electricity or heat. Bulldozers shoveled away debris, and people swept the streets against a backdrop of hollowed-out buildings, workers repaired a model warship, and Russian flags were flown from utility poles.
The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free troops to fight elsewhere in Donbass, the Kremlin’s eastern industrial region says is now his main goal. Its conquest also has symbolic value, as the city was the scene of some of the worst suffering of the war and a surprisingly fierce resistance.
Asked whether Russia will soon take full control of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “Mariupol will never fall. I’m not talking about heroism or anything like that.”
“It’s already devastated,” he said at a meeting at London think-tank Chatham House. He also said he remains open to negotiations with Russia but reiterated that Moscow must withdraw its forces.
As they pounded the work, Russian forces struggled to make significant gains elsewhere, 10 weeks after a devastating war that killed thousands, forced millions to flee the country and leveled large swathes of cities.
Ukrainian officials warned residents to be vigilant and heed airstrike warnings, saying the risk of massive shelling had increased with Victory Day approaching. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said authorities would step up street patrols in the capital.
Ukraine’s military general staff said on Friday that its forces repelled 11 attacks in Donbas, destroying tanks and armored vehicles, further daunting Putin’s ambitions after his failed attempt to seize Kyiv. Russia did not immediately acknowledge these losses.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia may struggle to implement its plan in Donbass, partly because it is deadlocked at the Mariupol plant. The fighting at the plant “had come at personnel, equipment and ammunition costs for Russia,” it said.
The Ukrainian army also said it had made advances in the northeastern Kharkiv region, retaking five villages and part of a sixth.
For other developments:
– The UN Security Council, including Russia, on Friday expressed “deep concerns at maintaining peace and security in Ukraine” and backed the UN chief’s efforts to advocate a peaceful solution in the body’s first statement since the invasion of Moscow Find.
Security Council statements are agreed by consensus. The short text adopted on Friday was written by Norway and Mexico.
“The Security Council expresses its deep concern for the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine,” it said. “The Security Council recalls that all Member States have undertaken, under the Charter of the United Nations, to settle their international disputes by peaceful means.”
“The Security Council expresses its strong support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to seek a peaceful solution,” the statement said, calling on UN chief Antonio Guterres to brief the Council again “in due course.” .
Guterres hailed the council’s support on Friday, saying he will “spare no effort to save lives, alleviate suffering and find the path of peace.”
– A Ukrainian army brigade said it used an American Switchblade “suicide” drone against Russian forces in what is likely Ukraine’s first documented combat use of such a weapon.
– The Ukrainian governor of East Luhansk region said residents of the city of Kreminna were being terrorized by Russian troops attempting to cross the Seversky Donets river. Serhiy Haidai accused Russian troops of tapping phones and “forced disappearance of Ukrainian patriots”. His statements could not be verified immediately.
– Haidia also said more than 15,000 people are staying in Severodonetsk, a city in the Luhansk region considered a key Russian target. He said three people were evacuated from Severodonetsk on Friday and that he believes most residents want to stay even though “entire blocks are on fire.”
– The small village of Nekhoteevk in Russia’s southern Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, was evacuated from Ukrainian territory on Friday because of shelling, according to regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov. His claims could not be immediately verified.
– Russian authorities reported that two self-proclaimed separatist republics in Ukraine’s industrial east – the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic – have appointed ambassadors extraordinary to Moscow. A spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, Oleg Nykolenko, said the ambassadors were “traitors” and would likely be charged with treason.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/50-more-civilians-including-11-children-rescued-from-azovstal-steel-plant-as-fears-grow-for-russian-victory-day-onslaught-41623393.html 50 more civilians, including 11 children, rescued from Azovstal Steelworks amid growing fears of Russian attack on ‘Victory Day’