Battle for Mariupol back after civil convoy finally allowed to leave

Russian forces renewed their assault on the key Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Sunday, just hours after a convoy of civilian refugees was finally allowed to leave, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy greeted a US Congressional delegation headed by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and accused the Kremlin of a “war of extermination”.

Ukrainian military officials told reporters in Kiev on Sunday night that Russian bombing had resumed on the steel giant, which is the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in the strategic city, after the United Nations and Red Cross confirmed the first groups of civilians fleeing the fighting was allowed to leave.

Russian troops have been fighting to secure full control of the city, which would free up forces and resources to participate in a construction offensive in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Kiev officials say more civilians and a detachment of Ukrainian troops remain at the Aztoval steel mill, even as Russian bombing resumes.

Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed Sunday that its forces also bombed an airfield in Odesa where US and other foreign military aid was being offloaded, while also destroying two Ukrainian anti-missile defense systems and damaging ammunition and fuel warehouses inside Ukraine. .

Zelenskyy, in another country-defying speech, said on Sunday that Russia’s choice of bombing targets was exposing the real motivation for the February 24 decision to invade, and said the brutality of the Kremlin war was quickly proving counterproductive. .

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Ukrainian officials over the weekend accused Russian forces of trying to steal large amounts of grain from the eastern and southern regions they control, an accusation Moscow has denied.

“The chosen targets prove once again that the war against Ukraine is a war of extermination for the Russian army,” accused Zelenskyy. “They targeted the warehouses of agricultural companies. The grain warehouse was destroyed. The fertilizer warehouse was also dismantled. They continued to bomb residential neighborhoods” in Kharkiv and the Donbas region.

“People’s lives ruined and property burned or stolen will give Russia nothing,” he added. “This will only increase the toxicity of the Russian state and the number of people in the world who will work to isolate Russia.”

There were around 1,000 civilians hiding in Mariupol on Sunday. Zelenskyy said more evacuations could take place on Monday, but only if conditions are right.

The first group of evacuees were taken to different locations, some in Ukrainian territory and others in territory now controlled by Russia and its Ukrainian allies, officials said.

American lawmakers visit

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Mrs. Pelosi became the most senior US lawmaker to come face-to-face with Zelenskyy since the invasion began, leading a congressional delegation on an unannounced visit to Kiev over the weekend.

The California Democrat said Sunday that lawmakers discussed the need for continued assistance and conveyed a message of unity at his meeting with Zelenskyy.

“Our delegation traveled to Kiev to send an unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: the United States stands firmly with Ukraine,” Pelosi said in a statement on Sunday.

Congress is ready to accept President Biden’s new request for an additional $33.4 billion in aid to Ukraine from Congress, including $20 billion in security assistance, $8.5 billion in economic assistance and $3. billion in humanitarian assistance.

The Biden administration has provided nearly $3.4 billion in assistance to Ukraine since the Russians invaded in late February.

The delegation included Democratic Representatives Gregory Meeks of New York, James McGovern and William Keating of Massachusetts, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee of California, and Jason Crow of Colorado. After their visit to Ukraine, lawmakers made their way to Poland, where they met with President Andrzej Duda and senior officials.

“This is a time when we stand for democracy or allow autocracy to rule the day,” Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters in Poland on Sunday.

Mr. Crow, a member of the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees, stressed the importance of arming the Ukrainians and ensuring that Russia is defeated.

“We have to make sure the Ukrainians have what they need to win,” Crow said. “What we’ve seen in the last couple of months is their ferocity, their intense pride, their ability to fight and their ability to win if they have the support to do so.”

Confusion in Congress

Despite strong bipartisan support for Ukraine on Capitol Hill, the way forward for Ukraine’s latest request for aid remains unclear.

Democratic leaders have yet to decide whether the aid will be combined with other spending priorities, such as more money for pandemic relief. The Senate will be in session this week, but the House will not return until May 10 for an eight-day legislative session.

As the bill progresses through Congress, the top Republican on the House Foreign Relations Committee warned Sunday that “time is of the essence” to help Ukraine contain its larger, better-armed neighbor in the expected offensive in the south and east. .

“I don’t think we have a lot of time to waste in Congress,” Representative Michael T. McCaul, a Texas Republican, told ABC’s “This Week” program. “Every day that we don’t send more weapons is a day that more people will be killed and a day that they can lose this war. I think they can win, but we have to give them the tools to do so.”

Senate Democrats have considered combining emergency funding with a $10 billion coronavirus package, which Republicans have so far refused to support.

Republicans have blocked consideration of coronavirus legislation in a fight over the White House proposal to end Title 42, an emergency order that uses the pandemic health crisis to justify the rapid expulsion of immigrants from Mexico to enter the US.

Mrs. Pelosi said last week that lawmakers would need to figure out how to quickly address both issues.

“We have emergencies here. We need to have COVID money and time is of the essence because we need Ukraine money,” said the California Democrat.

In an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, said the decision to link the two funding issues remains up in the air.

“The procedure where you join the accounts [or] separating them is peculiar and sometimes unpredictable,” he said. “We need the help of COVID. We need Ukraine’s help. We must do them together or separately, but we must not wait.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said Congress “will do whatever it takes” to ensure Ukraine has the necessary funds.

“It’s about the international order,” Menendez told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin can ultimately not only succeed in the Donbas, but also be encouraged to go further, if he attacks a country under NATO, under our NATO treaty obligations, then we will be directly involved.”

And Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, said US lawmakers should start thinking about a direct US-Russia confrontation if the crisis gets out of hand, even as Biden and NATO leaders have vehemently ruled out Western troops participating in the war. war. .

Mr. Kinzinger compared the current situation in Ukraine to that before World War II and said that while the US must continue to work to contain the ongoing war, it must also be prepared to respond in the event of a Russian escalation.

“If Vladimir Putin wants to scale with the West, he will,” Kinzinger told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It’s easy for him to do that. And I think now what we’re doing with the supply and with the loan-lease, with the financing, is right.”

“You know… before World War II, there were times when nobody wanted to get involved and they realized they had to,” he said. “I hope we don’t get to that point here, but we should be ready if we do.”

Russia tripping

Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the first time explicitly denied growing fears in the West that the Putin government was pushing for a major military advance in Ukraine in time for the annual Victory Day celebrations in Moscow in May 9, celebrating Russia’s armed forces and their role in the war. the defeat of Nazi Germany.

“Our soldiers are not going to base their actions on a specific date,” the veteran Russian diplomat told an interviewer on Italian television on Sunday.

“We will celebrate our victory in a solemn way, but the timing and speed of what is happening in Ukraine will depend on the need to minimize the risks to Russian civilians and soldiers,” he added, speaking in Russian through an Italian interpreter.

In another sign that the invasion has proved unexpectedly difficult for Putin and the Russian military, Ukrainian officials said over the weekend that one of Putin’s most senior defense advisers, Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov, made an unannounced visit. released to the front lines of fighting in eastern Ukraine to assess the situation and “change the course” of fighting, the New York Times reported.

There were even reports that the general or other senior Russian officials were wounded by a Ukrainian missile attack during the dangerous visit, but they could not be confirmed.

— Haris Alic contributed to this article, which was based in part on news agency reports.

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