Zaporizhia, Ukraine (AFP) – Some women and children have been evacuated from a steel factory that is the last defensive stronghold in the rubble of the bombed-out port city of Mariupol, a Ukrainian official and Russian state news organizations said, but hundreds of them are believed to remain trapped with little food. Or water or medicine.
The United Nations has been mediating the evacuation of up to 1,000 civilians living under the sprawling Soviet-era Azovstal factory after many previous attempts failed. Ukraine did not say how many fighters were also at the plant, the only part of Mariupol not occupied by Russian forces, but Russia put the number at 2,000. An estimated 100,000 civilians remain in the city.
UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu said the world body was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and Kiev, but could not provide details of ongoing evacuation efforts “due to the complexity and fluidity of the operation”.
“There are, at the moment, high-level engagements underway with all governments, Russia and Ukraine, to make sure you can rescue civilians and support the evacuation of civilians from the plant,” Abreu told The Associated Press. He did not confirm that a video posted on social media purporting to show UN-marked vehicles in Mariupol.
Ukraine has blamed the failure of several previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian bombing.
In the town of Lyman in the Donetsk region, where at least half the population has fled from Russian bombing, about 20 elderly people and children carrying bags with their dogs and cats boarded a minibus with a sign that reads “Children’s Evacuation” in Ukrainian. I set out towards Dnipro as explosions were heard in the distance.
The editors came and liberated us from what? Our lives?” said Nina Mihailenko, a professor of Russian language and literature, referring to the Russian troops.
Galina Zuev and her husband Alexander chose to stay, not ready to leave the place where they spent their whole lives.
“I don’t live well. There is a war here. They bomb all the time. The windows of our house were smashed. ‘Rockets are in the yards,'” Galina, 68, said.
Russian forces embarked on a major military operation to seize large parts of southern and eastern Ukraine, the country’s industrial heartland. Ukrainian forces fought village after village on Saturday to repel the Russian advance.
On Saturday, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said that 19 adults and six children had been removed from steel plants, but gave no further details.
A senior official with the Azov Regiment, the Ukrainian unit defending the plant, said 20 civilians had been evacuated during the ceasefire, though it was not clear if he was referring to the same group. There was no confirmation from the United Nations
“These are women and children,” said Svyatoslav Balamar in a video posted on the regiment’s Telegram channel. He also called for the evacuation of the wounded: “We do not know why they were not taken away and their evacuation to the territory controlled by Ukraine is not being discussed.”
Video and photos from inside the factory, shared by two Ukrainian women with The Associated Press Husbands were among the fighters Refusing to surrender there, he showed unidentified men with stained bandages; Others had open wounds or had limbs amputated.
The women, who identified their husbands as members of the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard, said that a skeletal medical staff was treating at least 600 wounded. They said some of the wounds were rotting from gangrene.
The men in the video said they only eat once a day and share at least 1.5 liters (50 ounces) of water a day between four people, and that supplies inside the besieged facility have run out.
One of the shirtless men appeared to be in pain as he described his wounds: two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a dislocated arm that “was hanging over the body.”
“I want to say to everyone who sees this: if you do not stop this matter here, in Ukraine, he will go further, to Europe,” he said.
The AP was unable to independently verify the date and location of the video, which the women said was taken last week in the maze of hallways and bunkers below the factory.
She urged the women to evacuate the Ukrainian fighters along with the civilians, warning that they could be tortured and executed if captured. “The lives of the soldiers are also important,” Yulia Fedosyuk told the Associated Press in Rome.
In his nightly video address on Saturday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky turned to Russian to urge Russian forces not to fight in Ukraine, saying that their generals expect thousands more of them to die.
The president accused Moscow of recruiting new soldiers “with little motivation and little combat experience” so that units destroyed early in the war could be brought back into battle.
“Every Russian soldier can still save his life,” Zelensky said. “It is better for you to survive in Russia than to die on our land.”
In other developments:
– Ukrainian Deputy Agriculture Minister Taras Vysotsky said in televised statements that Russian forces confiscated hundreds of thousands of tons of grain in the territories under their control. Ukraine is a major producer of grain, and the invasion has driven up world prices and raised concerns about shortages.
– Ukraine’s military said a Russian missile attack destroyed the runway of the airport in Odessa, Ukraine’s third most populous city and a major port on the Black Sea.
— The bodies of three men have been found buried in a forest near the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, according to the commander of the Kyiv regional police force. And Andrei Nebitov wrote on Facebook that the men, whose bodies were found on Friday, were tortured before being shot in the head. Ukrainian officials claimed that withdrawing Russian forces carried out mass killings of civilians in Bucha.
– Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators talk “almost every day.” However, he told the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, “Progress has not been easy.”
– Two buses were sent to evacuate residents from the eastern town of Popasna, and contact with the organizers was lost. “We know that (the buses) arrived in the town and then came under fire from an enemy sabotage and reconnaissance group,” Mayor Nikolai Khanatov said.
Getting a full picture of the ongoing battle in eastern Ukraine was difficult because air strikes and artillery shelling made the movement of journalists so dangerous. Also, both Ukraine and Moscow-backed rebels have imposed severe restrictions on coverage from the combat zone.
But Western military analysts noted that the offensive in the Donbass region, which includes Mariupol, was much slower than planned. So far, it appears that Russian forces and the separatists have made only slight gains in the month since Moscow said it would concentrate its military power in the east.
Numerically, Russia’s military manpower greatly exceeds the workforce in Ukraine. In the days before the war, Western intelligence estimated that Russia was stationed near the border with as many as 190,000 soldiers. The number of permanent military forces of Ukraine is about 200,000, spread throughout the country.
With plenty of firepower still in reserve, the Russian offensive could still intensify and bypass the Ukrainians. Altogether, the Russian army has about 900,000 personnel on active duty. Russia also has a much larger air and sea power.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid have flowed into Ukraine since the war began, but Russia’s massive warehouses mean Ukraine will continue to demand huge amounts of support.
Fish reported from Sloviansk. Associated Press reporters John Gambrel and Juras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldur in Washington, Trisha Thompson in Rome, and Associated Press staff around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the Associated Press’ coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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