Civilians, including women and children, must be dug out of bunkers under a steel mill that is the last resistance post in Ukraine’s Mariupol, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday as Russian forces stepped up their attack.
After failing to take the capital Kyiv in the first weeks of a war that has killed thousands and leveled towns and villages, Russia has accelerated its attacks on southern and eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s military said it would halt military activities at the Azovstal Steel Plant in the port city of Mariupol during the day Thursday and the following two days to allow civilians to leave.
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.
Ukraine’s military general staff said Russia’s attack on the sprawling Soviet-era plant involved air support.
Moscow declared victory in Mariupol on April 21 after weeks of siege and shelling, but resistance by Ukrainian forces in Azovstal has prevented Russia from completely overrunning the city.
Mariupol is a key target in Russia’s efforts to cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea – vital for its grain and metals exports – and link Russian-controlled territory in the country’s east to Crimea, which was captured from Moscow in 2014.
The United Nations and the Red Cross evacuated hundreds of people from Mariupol and other areas this week. But an estimated 200 civilians and Ukrainian militants are still holed up in a network of underground bunkers in Azovstal, Ukrainian officials say.
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.
But no one from Azovstal was among the group, said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Humanitarian Aid Office.
“However, we fear more civilians are trapped there and stand ready to help,” Laerke said in an email.
Tetyana Trotsak, one of Azovstal evacuees among dozens who reached a Ukrainian-controlled town 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.
Elsewhere, Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, where Mariupol is located, said at least 25 civilians were injured when Russian troops shelled Kramatorsk, a town that in April suffered a rocket attack on a train station where dozens of civilians were evacuating were killed.
A school and a kindergarten were badly damaged in the new attack, the city’s mayor said. Reuters could not independently verify the casualties or damage.
More than five million Ukrainians have fled abroad since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on February 24. Millions more were displaced within Ukraine.
Russia is calling its actions in Ukraine a “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.
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. Read the full story
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.
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.
Russian missile strikes in recent days have trapped train stations in a bid to stop western arms transfers.
The United States and its European allies imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow over the invasion and provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in aid, including arms.
A source said European Union envoys could reach agreement as early as Thursday on a plan to halt imports of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of this year. It requires the approval of all 27 EU governments. Read the full story
The plan also targets Russia’s top bank, its broadcasters and hundreds of individuals. It would follow US and UK oil bans and mark a turning point for the EU, the world’s largest trading bloc, which remains dependent on Russian energy and must find alternative sources of supply.
The Kremlin said Russia is weighing different responses to the EU plan, which would be costly for European citizens.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/zelensky-appeals-for-truce-to-dig-out-civilians-trapped-under-steel-plant-in-mariupol-as-russian-forces-press-on-with-assault-41616842.html Zelensky calls for a ceasefire to dig out civilians trapped under a steel mill in Mariupol as Russian forces continue the attack