Monday, June 27, 2022

First citizens leave Mariupol Steel Plant; hundreds left

Zaporizhzhya, UK – People fleeing the siege of Mariupol described weeks of bombing and deprivation as they arrived Monday in Ukrainian-occupied territory, where officials and relief workers eagerly searched for the first group of civilians liberated from a steel plant. Waiting for what is the last resale of Ukrainian fighters. In the devastated port city.

Videos posted online by Ukrainian forces on Sunday showed elderly women and mothers with young children climbing a pile of rubble from the giant Azovstal steel plant and eventually boarding a bus.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said more than 100 civilians from the plant were expected to reach Zaporizhzhya, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) northwest of Mariupol, on Monday.

The evacuation, if successful, would represent a rare progress in reducing the humanitarian cost of the nearly 10-week war, which has caused particular suffering in Mariupol. Previous attempts to open safe corridors from the Sea of ​​Azov city and other places have collapsed, with Ukrainian officials repeatedly accusing Russian forces of firing and shelling on agreed evacuation routes.

“Today, for the first time in all the days of the war, this much-needed Green Corridor has started functioning,” Zelensky said in a pre-recorded address published on his Telegram messaging channel on Sunday.

At least some of the people evacuated from the plant were taken to a village controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. The Russian military said on Monday that some preferred to remain in separatist areas, while dozens moved to areas controlled by Ukraine. The information could not be independently verified.

In the past, Ukrainian authorities have accused Moscow troops of forcibly relocating civilians from areas they have occupied; Moscow has said that people want to go to Russia.

Zelensky told Greek state television that the remaining civilians at the Mariupol steel factory were afraid to board the buses because they believed 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.

Mariupol has become a symbol of the human suffering caused by the war. A Russian siege has left civilians with little access to food, water, and electricity, as Moscow’s forces razed the city to a more stringent Ukrainian resistance than expected.

Ukraine’s defense also thwarted Moscow’s attempt to take Kyiv in the early weeks of the war, and Russia has now shifted its focus to Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014. Huh. Mariupol is located in the Donbass. ,

Russia says its military has targeted dozens of military bases in the region in the past day alone. But Ukrainian and Western officials claim Moscow’s troops are indiscriminately using weapons that are taking a toll on civilians and only making slow progress.

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While official evacuations have often faltered, in recent weeks many have managed to flee Mariupol under their own steam. Others are unable to escape.

“People can’t go without cars. They are desperate,” said Olena Gibert, who was among those arriving at the UN-backed reception center in Zaporizhzhya in dusty and often damaged private cars. “You have to go get them. People have nothing. We didn’t have anything.”

He said many still wanted to escape the Russian-controlled town of Mariupol, but could not say so openly amid an atmosphere of constant pro-Russian propaganda.

Anastasia Debitschka, who took advantage of the brief ceasefire to evacuate civilians from the steel plant to move in with her daughter, nephew and dog, told the Associated Press that her family avoided cooking and drinking well water on a makeshift stove. Went.

She said that she could see the steel plant from her window, when she dared to look outside.

“We can see the rocket flying” and clouds of smoke over the plant, she said.

A defender at the plant said Russian forces resumed shelling on the plant on Sunday, as soon as some civilians were evacuated there. It was not clear whether there would be further evacuation efforts.

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.

Before the weekend evacuation, about 1,000 civilians were also believed to be at the huge, Soviet-era steel plant, along with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters. In total there may still be over a million people in Mariupol.

The city, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000, is a major Russian target because its capture would deprive Ukraine of an important port, allowing Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. had done , and free the troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbass.

A Ukrainian official at the plant urged groups such as the United Nations and the Red Cross to ensure the evacuation of wounded fighters, though he acknowledged it was difficult to reach some of the wounded.

“There’s debris. We don’t have any special equipment. It’s difficult for soldiers to lift ton weight slabs only with their weapons,” Svyatoslav Palmar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment, told the Associated Press in an interview. “We hear the voices of those who are still alive” inside the scattered buildings.

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The Azov Regiment began as a far-right paramilitary unit and is now part of the Ukrainian Army.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces attacked dozens of military bases in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours, including troops and arms and ammunition depots near Chervon in the Zaporizhzhya region, west of the Donbass.

The information could not be independently verified. Ukraine’s presidential office said at least three people were killed and seven others, including a child, injured in the Donbass in the past 24 hours. The regional administration in Zaporizhzhya said at least two people were killed and four others wounded in Russian shelling in the city of Orikhiv.

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.

Ukraine’s military claimed on Monday it had destroyed two small Russian patrol boats in the Black Sea. Drone footage posted online showed what Ukrainians described as two Russian Raptor boats detonating after being hit by missiles.

Andhra Pradesh could not immediately independently confirm the attacks.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid have flown into Ukraine during the war, but Russia’s vast arsenal means Ukraine still needs massive support. Zelensky has called for more weapons from the West and tighter economic sanctions on Russia.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other US lawmakers visited Zelensky on Saturday to show US support. The delegation met Polish President Andrzej Duda and lawmakers in Warsaw on Monday to express gratitude to the country for supporting Ukraine.

EU energy ministers were meeting on Monday to discuss a new set of sanctions that could include sanctions on Russian oil – although Russia-dependent members of the 27-nation bloc including Hungary and Slovakia are reluctant to take strict action. are careful.

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Reported from Varenytsia Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Yesika Fisch in Slovak, Jon Gambrel and Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv and Associated Press employees from around the world contributed to this report.

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