FIFTY more people were evacuated from the besieged Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol today, according to pro-Russian forces.
Cores of civilians have been trapped for weeks alongside Ukrainian militants holed up at the Soviet-era facility.
The headquarters of the territorial defense of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) announced by telegram that a total of 176 civilians had been evacuated from the steelworks.
Reuters news agency said it could not immediately verify the report.
About 50 civilians were taken Friday from the sprawling bombed-out facility to a reception center in nearby Bezimenne in the separatist DPR, whose forces are fighting alongside Russian troops to expand their control over much of eastern Ukraine. Dozens of civilians were also evacuated over the past weekend.
“Today, May 7, 50 people were evacuated from the area of Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol,” the DPR said.
Mariupol survived 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 – still in the hands of Ukrainian militants.
Scores of civilians have been trapped alongside them in the facility for weeks with little food, water or medicine.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a late-night video address on Friday that Ukraine was working on a diplomatic effort to rescue defenders barricaded at the steel mill. How many Ukrainian fighters stayed there was unclear.
“Influential mediators are involved, influential states,” he said, but gave no further details.
The defenders have vowed not to surrender. Ukrainian officials fear Russian forces aim to wipe them out by Monday, in time for Moscow’s commemorations of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
The 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 stopped by renewed fighting during the week.
The city’s mayor earlier this week estimated that 200 people were trapped inside the facility. It was unclear how many remained.
President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Mariupol on April 21, ordered the plant locked down and called on internal Ukrainian forces to disarm. But Russia later resumed its attack on the plant.
Asked about plans for Russia to mark the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War II victory over Nazi Germany in parts of Ukraine on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday: “The time will come to celebrate Victory Day to commit in Mariupol.”
Battle for the East
Mariupol, sandwiched between the Crimea peninsula captured by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-backed separatists this year, is key to connecting the two Russian-controlled territories and blocking Ukrainian exports.
Ukraine’s General Staff said today that Russian forces are pursuing an offensive in eastern Ukraine in a bid to gain full control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and maintain the land corridor between those areas and Crimea.
Near Kharkiv, Russian forces continue artillery shelling on settlements near the northeastern city. They blew up three road bridges in the region to slow down the counter-offensive by Ukrainian forces, the General Staff said.
Russia said it destroyed a large stockpile of military equipment from the United States and European countries near the Bohodukhiv train station in the Kharkiv region.
The Defense Ministry said it struck 18 Ukrainian military installations overnight, including three ammunition depots in Dachne, near the southern port city of Odessa.
It was not possible to independently verify the statements of both sides about what was happening on the battlefield.
Drone attacks in Moldova
A senior Russian commander said last month Russia plans to take full control of southern Ukraine and that doing so would improve Russian access to Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova.
Pro-Russian separatists in Moldova said today Transnistria was hit four times by suspected drones overnight near the Ukrainian border. Nearly two weeks of similar reports of incidents in Transnistria have raised international alarms that the war in Ukraine could spread across the border.
Ukraine has repeatedly denied any culpability in the incidents, saying it believes Russia is staging false flag attacks to provoke war. Moscow also rejects the blame.
In the Kharkiv region, Governor Oleh Sinegubov reported three overnight shelling raids on the city of Kharkiv and the village of Skovorodinyvka, causing a fire that nearly destroyed the Hryhoriy Skovoroda Literary Memorial Museum.
Skovoroda was an 18th-century philosopher and poet. Sinegubov said the museum’s collection was not damaged because it was moved to a safer location.
“The occupiers can destroy the museum where Hryhoriy Skovoroda worked in the last years of his life and where he was buried. But they will not destroy our memories and our values,” Sinegubov said in a social media post.
Moscow has been calling its actions since February 24 a “military special operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what it calls Western-fomented anti-Russian nationalism.
Ukraine and the West say Russia started an unprovoked war and accused Russian forces of war crimes.
Moscow denies the allegations and says it only targets military or strategic locations, not civilians. More than five million Ukrainians have fled abroad since the invasion began.
https://www.independent.ie/news/fifty-more-people-evacuated-from-mariupol-steelworks-say-pro-russian-forces-41624838.html Fifty more people have been evacuated from the Mariupol Steelworks, pro-Russian forces say