Civilians, including women and children, are still trapped in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol and a prolonged ceasefire is needed to ensure their evacuation while Russia ramps up its attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday.
After Russia failed to capture the capital, Kyiv, in the first weeks of a war that has left thousands dead and cities destroyed, Russia has accelerated its attacks on eastern and southern Ukraine, where the port of Mariupol lies on the Sea of Azov among its main goals.
Russia declared victory over Mariupol on April 21 after weeks of siege and shelling. The city is key to Moscow’s efforts to cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea – vital for grain and metal exports – and to connect Russian-controlled territory.
The United Nations and the Red Cross evacuated hundreds of people from Mariupol and other areas this week.
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But about 200 civilians and Ukrainian militants are still holed up in a network of underground bunkers at the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say.
Russia vowed to suspend military activity in Azovstal during the day Thursday and the following two days to allow civilians to disembark. In an early morning speech, Zelenskyy said Ukraine was ready to guarantee a ceasefire in Mariupol.
“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.
Ukrainian fighters in Azov Valley are fighting “difficult, bloody battles” against Russian troops, Denis Prokopenko, a commander of Ukraine’s Azov regiment, said late Wednesday. A Ukrainian parliamentarian said Russian troops were at the facility.
Over 300 civilians were evacuated from Mariupol and other areas in southern Ukraine on Wednesday as part of a joint United Nations-Red Cross operation, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine Osnat Lubrani said.
“While this second evacuation of civilians from areas in Mariupol and beyond is significant, much more needs to be done to ensure all civilians engaged in fighting can go in the direction they want,” Lubrani said .
It was not clear if further UN evacuations were planned.
Tetyana Trotsak, a Ukrainian evacuee who was among dozens to reach a Ukrainian-controlled city this week, expressed fear for those still trapped at the steel mill.
“God forbid more shells fall near the bunkers where the civilians are,” Trotsak said.
Russia launched its invasion on February 24, describing it as a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and defend its Russian-speaking population from fascists.
Kyiv and its Western backers say this is a pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression by President Vladimir Putin, which has forced more than 5 million Ukrainians to flee abroad.
As Western military aid to Ukraine pours into the country, the United States has also provided key information that helped Ukrainian forces kill Russian generals, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
Washington has provided Ukraine with details of the location of Russia’s mobile military headquarters, allowing Ukrainian forces to attack those targets, the newspaper said, citing senior US officials.
The Pentagon and White House did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment on the report.
According to The New York Times, Ukrainian officials said they killed about 12 Russian generals on the battlefield.
Russian missile strikes in recent days have trapped train stations in a bid to stop western arms transfers.
Russian forces have carried out sporadic attacks on Kyiv and Lviv in western Ukraine near the Polish border since withdrawing from areas around the capital in early April.
Moscow’s main focus is on conquering Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, which consists of two provinces – Luhansk and Donetsk – controlled in part by Russian-backed separatists.
Ukraine’s military said Thursday its forces repelled 11 Russian attacks, shot down four Russian planes and destroyed more than a dozen Russian military vehicles, including tanks.
Fighting also raged northeast in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, where Russian shelling killed a resident and injured an 11-year-old boy, the Kharkiv regional administration said.
Reuters could not immediately verify reports of battlefield developments. The United States and its European allies have slapped sweeping sanctions on Moscow over the invasion and provided billions of dollars worth of aid to Ukraine, including weapons, which Kyiv said have caused heavy Russian casualties.
The European Union is increasing pressure on Russia’s already struggling $1.8 trillion economy and on Wednesday proposed stopping imports of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of this year.
“Putin has to pay a high price for his brutal aggression,” said EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in Strasbourg and applauded the MEPs.
The plan, if adopted by all 27 EU governments, would follow US and UK oil bans and mark a turning point for the world’s largest trading bloc, which remains dependent on Russian energy and must find alternative sources of supply.
A source said EU envoys could reach an agreement on Thursday or later this week on the plan, which also targets Russia’s top bank, its broadcasters and hundreds of individuals.
The Kremlin said Russia was weighing different responses to the EU plan, adding that the measures would be costly for European citizens
https://www.independent.ie/news/women-and-children-still-trapped-inside-ukraines-besieged-city-of-mariupol-41616336.html Women and children are still locked up in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol