Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — In what became the last stronghold of Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol, the first civilians evacuated from a bombed-out steel plant slowly made their way to safety on Monday, as people fled the city. Others who managed described the horrific weeks of the bombing. and lack.
More than 100 civilians – including elderly women and mothers with young children – left the huge, rubbled Azovstal steel mill on Sunday and left in buses and ambulances for the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhya, about 140 miles (230 kilometres) away. Fallen. North West, according to officials and videos released by both sides.
Mariupol’s deputy mayor, Sergei Orlov, told the BBC that the evacuees were making slow progress and would likely not arrive on Monday as expected. Officials did not provide any explanation for the delay.
At least some civilians were taken to a village apparently controlled by Russia-backed separatists. The Russian military said some preferred to stay in separatist areas, while dozens left for Ukrainian-occupied territory.
In the past, Ukraine has accused Moscow troops of moving civilians into Russia or Russian-controlled areas against their will. The Kremlin has denied this.
Orlov said high-level talks are underway between Ukraine, Russia and international organizations on more evacuations.
The steel-plant evacuation, if successful, would represent a rare advance in reducing the humanitarian cost of the nearly 10-week war, which has particularly plagued Mariupol., Previous attempts to open safe corridors from the southern port city and elsewhere have fallen through, with Ukrainian officials accusing Russian forces of firing and shelling on agreed evacuation routes.
During a brief ceasefire around the steelworks by the United Nations and the Red Cross, before the weekend evacuation, about 1,000 civilians were believed to be at the plant along with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders. Russia has demanded that the fighters surrender; He has refused.
Altogether 100,000 people may still be in Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of over 400,000. The Russian military has reduced much of the city to rubble, trapping civilians with little food, water, heat or medicine.
Some Mariupol residents left the city on their own, often damaging private cars.
As sunset approached, Mariupol resident Yaroslav Dmitryshin rushed to a reception center in Zaporizhzhya, in which the rear seat was filled with youth and two signs were taped to the rear window: “children” and “little ones.”
“I can’t believe we survived,” he said, weary but in good spirits upon his safe arrival after two days on the road.
“Nobody is Mariupol,” he said. “Someone needs to rebuild it, and it will take millions of tons of gold.” He said they lived across the railroad tracks from the steel plant. “Wasted,” he said. “The factory is completely gone.”
Anastasia Dembitska, who took advantage of the truce to move in with her daughter, nephew and dog, said her family survived by cooking on a makeshift stove and drinking well water. She said that she could see the steel works from her window, when she dared to look outside.
“We can see rockets flying” and clouds of smoke over the plant, she said.
Most of the dozens of Russian battalion tactical groups based around Mariupol have moved to other battlefields in northeastern Ukraine, according to a senior US defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the Pentagon’s assessment. The official said the Russian military made minimal gains over the weekend.
In other developments, EU energy ministers met on Monday to discuss new sanctions against the Kremlin, which could include sanctions on Russian oil. But some members of the 27-nation bloc, which depend on Russia, including Hungary and Slovakia, are wary of taking strict action.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he hoped more people would be able to leave Mariupol in an organized evacuation on Monday. The city council told residents they wanted to gather in a shopping mall to wait for buses.
Zelensky told Greek state television that the remaining civilians at the steel plant were afraid to board the buses because they feared they would be taken to Russia. He said he had been assured by the United Nations that he would be allowed to visit areas under his government’s control.
According to a protester, after being evacuated from the plant, Russian forces resumed shelling there on Sunday.
Denis Shlega, commander of Ukraine’s National Guard’s 12th Operational Brigade, said in a televised interview that several hundred civilians were trapped, along with about 500 wounded soldiers and “many” bodies.
“Several dozen small children are still in bunkers under the plant,” Schlega said.
Failed in his attempt to capture the capital Kyiv, President Vladimir Putin has shifted his focus to the Donbass, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Russia said it had targeted dozens of military bases in the region in the past few days. It said it targeted troops and a depot of arms and ammunition near Chervon in the Zaporizhzhya region, west of the Donbass.
Ukrainian and Western officials say Moscow’s military is firing indiscriminately, severely impacting civilians while making slow progress.
Zelensky’s office said at least three people were killed in the Donbass in the past 24 hours. The regional administration in Zaporizhzhia reported that at least two people were killed in Russian shelling.
The governor of the Odessa region along the Black Sea Coast, Maxim Marchenko, said on the Telegram messaging app that the Russian missile attack on an Odessa infrastructure target caused deaths and injuries. He did not give any details.
Ukraine claims to have destroyed two small Russian patrol boats in the Black Sea. Online drone footage showed what Ukrainians described as two Russian Raptor boats detonating after being hit by missiles.
Mariupol, which is located in the Donbass, is the key to Russia’s campaign in the east. Its capture would deprive Ukraine of an important port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops to fight elsewhere in the region. Had given.
It is difficult to capture the full picture of the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine. The fighting makes it dangerous for journalists to move around, and both sides have imposed strict restrictions on reporting from the war zone.
But Britain’s defense ministry said it believes more than a quarter of all combat units deployed by Russia in Ukraine are now “battle ineffective” – unable to fight due to loss of troops or equipment.
Ukraine said Russia also attacked a strategic road and rail bridge west of Odessa. The bridge was heavily damaged in previous Russian attacks, and its destruction would cut supply routes for weapons and other cargo from neighboring Romania.
Reported from Varenytsia Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Yesika Fisch in Sloviansk, Jon Gambrel and Urus Karmanau in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita Baldor in Washington and Associated Press employees from around the world contributed to this report.
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