20 civilians evacuated from besieged factory in Mariupol, Ukraine: report

Ukraine War: Thousands were killed and over 13 million were forced to flee their homes.

Mariupol:

At least 20 civilians, including several children, managed to leave a badly damaged steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Saturday, in what could be the start of a larger and long-awaited evacuation of the last stronghold in the Russian-controlled region. City.

Ukrainian fighters from the Azov regiment, which defends the site, said the 20 civilians had left, possibly for the Ukrainian town of Zaporizhzhia, about 225 kilometers to the northwest.

Russian news agency Tass published a similar report, although it put the number of evacuees at 25.

A UN-planned evacuation was underway, although it is unclear whether Saturday’s evacuation was UN-led and whether further evacuations are imminent. There were no immediate details on the condition of the evacuees.

But the fact that the evacuation took place was significant. Conditions in a vast network of tunnels under the Azovstal steelworks – where hundreds of civilians are believed to still be sheltered, along with Ukrainian fighters – are brutal, and previous evacuation efforts have been futile.

The apparent ceasefire in Mariupol came as Russian attacks continued unabated across Ukraine, most heavily in the fiercely disputed eastern regions, but with attacks as far as Odessa on the Black Sea coast.

Odessa regional governor Maxim Marchenko said a Russian missile attack had destroyed the airport’s runway as Russia continued to target infrastructure and supply lines in the west of the country.

There were no casualties from the strike at the airport near the historic city of one million people.

Near Bucha, the town near Kiev that has become synonymous with Russian war crimes allegations, Ukrainian police said on Saturday they found three bodies shot in the head with their hands tied.

The three bodies found in a grave were “brutally killed” by Russian soldiers – each shot in the head, police said in a statement.

“The victims’ hands were tied, cloths covered their eyes and some were gagged. There are traces of torture on the corpses,” he said.

Russian forces also continued their relentless bombing raids on Saturday in the east of the country, killing at least one person and wounding 12 more.

cleaning up debris

In Mariupol, the Azov regiment said on Saturday it was clearing rubble from Russia’s night bombing to rescue trapped civilians.

From the badly damaged port area of ​​Mariupol, AFP on Friday heard heavy shelling coming from Azovstal during a media trip organized by the Russian army, with explosions lasting just a few seconds.

“Twenty civilians, women and children… have been transferred to a suitable location and we expect them to be evacuated to Zaporizhzhia, in Ukrainian-controlled territory,” said Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment.

But Denis Pushilin, leader of the breakaway eastern region of Donetsk, accused Ukrainian forces of “acting like brazen terrorists” and holding civilians hostage at the steelworks.

On the eastern frontline, Russian troops advanced slowly but steadily in some areas – helped by the massive use of artillery – but Ukrainian forces also regained some territory in recent days, mainly around the city of Kharkiv.

One of the areas recovered from Russian control was the village of Ruska Lozova, which evacuees said had been occupied for two months.

“It was two months of terrible fear. Nothing more, terrible, relentless fear,” Natalia, a 28-year-old evacuee from Ruska Lozova, told AFP after arriving in Kharkiv.

“We were in the basement without food for two months, we were eating what we had,” said Svyatoslav, 40, who declined to give his full name, his eyes red with fatigue.

Putin’s ‘depravity’

Thousands of people have been killed and more than 13 million have been forced to flee their homes since Russia’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbor began on February 24, according to the United Nations.

On Friday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was briefly emotional as he described the destruction in Ukraine and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “depravity”.

Ukrainian prosecutors say they have identified more than 8,000 war crimes committed by Russian troops and are investigating 10 Russian soldiers for suspected atrocities in Bucha.

Russia has denied any involvement in the civilian deaths in Bucha.

But Russian officials confirmed on Friday that their forces had carried out an airstrike on Kiev a day earlier during a visit by UN chief Antonio Guterres, the first such attack on the capital in nearly two weeks. A journalist died in the attack.

– Prisoner exchange –

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 14 Ukrainians, including a pregnant soldier, were freed in the latest prisoner exchange with Russian forces.

She did not say how many Russians were returned.

Kiev admitted that Russian forces captured a number of villages in the Donbass region.

“Even if there has been some advance by Russian troops on the ground, it’s not very fast,” Russian military expert Alexander Khramchikhin told AFP.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the “special military operation… is proceeding strictly according to plan,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

More Western weapons are expected to arrive in Ukraine, with US President Joe Biden on Thursday seeking billions of dollars from Congress to increase supplies.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday that his country would also “intensify” military and humanitarian support.

In recent days, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had attacked Ukrainian military sites that housed Western-supplied weapons and ammunition, an allegation denied by a senior NATO official.

Russia has warned Western countries against sending more military aid.

“If the US and NATO are really interested in solving the crisis in Ukraine, then first of all they should wake up and stop supplying the Kiev regime with weapons and ammunition,” Lavrov said.

And with Sweden mulling an offer of NATO membership, defense officials there said Saturday that a Russian reconnaissance plane briefly breached the northern country’s airspace a day earlier.

(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by the NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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