As Mariupol bows after more than two months of Russian bombing, more civilians appear to be fleeing the Ukrainian city.
Russian state media reported on Saturday that 25 civilians had been evacuated from a steel mill that is the last holdout in a strategic city largely ravaged by Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war.
A Ukrainian official confirmed that some people hiding at the plant had left thanks to an agreement between the countries in conflict.
“We brought 20 civilians to the agreed meeting point, which we managed to rescue from under the rubble,” said Captain Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment. “They are women and children.”
There are believed to be around 1,000 civilians at the factory, which dates back to the days of the Soviet Union. Up to 2,000 military personnel are believed to be there as well.
The city itself was one of the main targets of Putin’s barbarism due to its location on the Sea of Azov. The population was around 430,000 when the war started on 24 February. It is now believed to have dropped to 100,000 with people fleeing to other nations or safer parts of Ukraine.
Palamar said the initial evacuations on Saturday were focused on the elderly, women and children.
“We hope that this process will be extended further and that we will successfully evacuate all civilians,” he said.
Mariupol is part of the Donbass region, which was the main target of the Russians for the last month. Russian forces appear to have made only small gains in this area, Western military analysts said.
With Ukraine fiercely defending its land, the Russians are “at least several days behind where they wanted to be,” a senior US defense official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to express support.
“The prime minister reiterated that he is more committed than ever to bolstering Ukraine and ensuring that Putin fails, noting how hard Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom,” reads a statement released by Johnson’s office.
“He confirmed that the UK will continue to provide additional military aid to give Ukrainians the equipment they need to defend themselves,” the statement said.
Among the problems Ukraine is dealing with are fuel shortages due to Russian attacks on infrastructure. As his people waited in long lines at gas stations, Zelenskyy admitted that “there were no immediate solutions”, but he expected the shortages to subside in the coming weeks.
Mariupol has been short of not only fuel but also food and water for weeks.
Then there is the sheer cruelty of the invasion.
Three bodies were found buried in a forest near the Kiev suburb of Bucha. The dead were tortured before being shot in the head, Kiev police chief Andriy Nebytov wrote on Facebook.
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Ukrainian officials said retreating Russian forces executed several civilians in Bucha.
Reports of such atrocities and mass graves filled with civilians stunned people around the world, including Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, who became emotional on Friday as he spoke of Putin.
“It’s hard to look at what he’s doing in Ukraine, what his forces are doing in Ukraine, and think that any ethical and moral individual could justify that,” Kirby said. “It’s hard to look at some of the images and imagine that any well thought out, serious, mature leader would do this. So I can’t speak to his psychology. But I think we can all speak of his depravity.”
As the war progresses, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Chinese state news agency Xinhua that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators speak “almost every day, but “progress has not been easy”.
Meanwhile, video from inside the steel mill painted a dire picture, with a grim warning of a shirtless man with two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a dislocated arm.
“I want to say to everyone who sees this: if you don’t stop it here, in Ukraine, go further, in Europe,” he said.
With news services