A third operation is underway to evacuate civilians from the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and the besieged Azovstal Steelworks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday, as Russia accused the West of waging an economic world war.
The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have helped nearly 500 civilians flee the area in two operations so far in the past week. At a briefing before the UN Security Council, Guterres declined to provide details about the new operation “so as not to undermine its potential success.”
“I hope continued coordination with Moscow and Kyiv will result in more humanitarian pauses to allow civilians safe passage from the fighting and provide assistance to reach those in critical need,” he told the 15-strong Advice. “We must continue to do whatever it takes to get people out of these hellscapes.”
Since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24 – what Moscow calls a “military special operation” – the United States and Western allies have hit back with harsh sanctions.
“It is as if you have been eagerly waiting for this moment to unleash repression against Russia,” Russia’s UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia told the Council. “If we were to talk about the world war, then it is undoubtedly being conducted on an economic level today.”
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of lying to the Security Council.
“Russia alone started this war and only Russia can end it. Silence the guns, withdraw from Ukrainian territory and embrace diplomacy,” she said.
Guterres has also warned that the war in Ukraine will put even more pressure on developing countries.
He told the Security Council he was ready to facilitate talks on “the reintegration of Ukraine’s agricultural production and Russia’s and Belarus’ food and fertilizer production into world markets, despite the war.”
Dozens of Ukrainian civilians remained trapped inside a steel mill in Mariupol on Thursday, which was rocked by massive explosions as Russian forces fight for control of Ukraine’s last stronghold in the devastated port city.
The United Nations said a new operation was underway to evacuate more people from Mariupol and the Azovstal Steel Plant, where an estimated 200 civilians are still holed up in underground bunkers with little food or water.
President Vladimir Putin said Russia was ready to allow civilians a safe exit, but again urged internal Ukrainian forces to disarm. Ukrainian fighters, desperately holding on, have reported fierce fighting with Russian troops.
Putin declared victory over Mariupol on April 21 and ordered his forces to seal off the Soviet-era plant but not venture into its network of underground tunnels. The Kremlin denies Ukrainian allegations that Russian troops have stormed the plant in recent days.
Aerial photos above the facility released Thursday by Ukraine’s Azov regiment showed three blasts hitting different parts of the huge complex, which was surrounded by heavy, dark smoke.
Reuters verified the footage’s location by matching buildings to satellite imagery, but was unable to determine when the video was shot.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres informed the Security Council that a third operation to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and Azovstal was underway. In partnership with the Red Cross, the United Nations has helped nearly 500 civilians flee the area over the past week.
“I hope continued coordination with Moscow and Kyiv will result in more humanitarian pauses to allow civilians safe passage from the fighting and provide assistance to reach those in critical need,” Guterres said.
“We must continue to do everything we can to get people out of these hellscapes.” Guterres declined to give details about the new operation “so as not to undermine a possible success”.
Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk said people would be evacuated from Mariupol on Friday midday but gave no further details.
Ukraine’s stubborn defense of Azovstal has underscored Russia’s failure to take major cities in a 10-week war that has united Western powers to arm Kyiv and slap sanctions on Moscow.
A Ukrainian fighter who said he was holed up at Azovstal accused Russian forces of breaching the plant’s defenses for a third day, despite Moscow’s earlier pledge to halt military activity to allow civilians to be evacuated .
“Heavy, bloody fighting is taking place,” said Captain Sviatoslav Palamar of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment. “Once again, the Russians have not kept their promise of a ceasefire.” Reuters could not independently verify his account or location.
The Russian military vowed to halt its daytime activities at Azovstal on Thursday and for the next two days to allow civilians to leave after fighting prevented the plant from being evacuated on Wednesday. The Kremlin said humanitarian corridors are in place from the facility.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was ready to guarantee a ceasefire.
“It’s going to take time to lift people out of these basements, out of these underground shelters. Under the current conditions, we cannot use heavy equipment to clear away the debris. Everything has to be done by hand,” said Zelenskyj.
Mariupol is a key target of Russian efforts to cut off Ukraine from its coastal grain and metal export routes and connect Russian-controlled territory in the east of the country to Crimea, which was occupied by Moscow in 2014.
A woman who fled Mariupol with her sister last month said she bursts into tears thinking of her mother, who they left behind and with whom they have since lost touch.
“The last time I saw my mother, it felt like a normal visit under unusual circumstances,” said Nicole, who declined to give her family name. “I never imagined I wouldn’t be able to call them and ask how they are.”
Sweeping sanctions by Washington and European allies have reeled in Russia’s $1.8 trillion economy, while billions of dollars worth of military aid have helped Ukraine thwart the invasion.
European Union countries are “almost on target” in agreeing to the bloc’s proposed new package of sanctions against Russia, including an oil embargo, said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
The Kremlin said Russia is weighing reactions to the EU plan.
Ukraine and Russia said fighting had been fierce in the south and east over the past day.
Ukrainian authorities reported shelling cities near a front line separating their territory in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions from lands held by Russian-backed separatists.
Ukraine’s air force said it shot down three Russian cruise missiles and four planes, including two Sukhoi fighter jets, while Russia said it killed 600 Ukrainian soldiers overnight. Reuters also failed to report independently.
Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia could step up its offensive before May 9, when Moscow commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
Russia is calling its actions a “military special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist charge is unfounded and the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
More than 5 million Ukrainians have fled abroad since the invasion began.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/civilians-still-trapped-in-ukrainian-steelworks-as-bombardment-continues-and-russia-accused-of-lying-to-un-security-council-41619160.html Civilians still trapped in Ukrainian steel mills as bombing continues and Russia faces accusations of lying to the UN Security Council