- Women, children and elderly evacuated, says deputy prime minister
- It is unclear whether other civilians remain
- Russian forces try to invade Azovstal, say Ukrainian military
- CIA director says Putin ‘bent’ on conflict
- WHO documents 200 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine
KYIV, May 7 (Reuters) – All women, children and elderly civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday, after a week-long effort rescued hundreds of people during a Russian attack on the plant. .
“This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation is over,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on the messaging app Telegram.
The Soviet-era steel mill, the last stronghold in Mariupol for Ukrainian forces, has become a symbol of resistance to the Russian effort to capture swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine in the 10-week war.
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Under heavy bombardment, fighters and civilians were trapped for weeks in bunkers and deep tunnels that crisscross the site, with little food, water or medicine.
Russian forces backed by tanks and artillery tried again on Saturday to attack Azovstal, seeking to dislodge the last Ukrainian defenders in the strategic port city on the Sea of Azov, Ukraine’s military command said.
Weeks of Russian bombing left Mariupol in ruins. The steel mill was largely destroyed. During lulls in the fighting, evacuations of civilians began last weekend, mediated by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an evening speech that more than 300 civilians had been rescued from the plant. Authorities will now focus on evacuating the wounded and doctors and helping residents elsewhere in Mariupol and nearby settlements to safety, he said.
Russian-backed separatists also reported a total of 176 civilians evacuated from the plant. It was unclear whether civilian men were still there.
Ukrainian fighters at the plant vowed not to surrender. It was unclear how many remained, and Ukrainian officials fear Russian forces will want to eliminate them until Monday, when Moscow celebrates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. see More information
In Washington, the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is convinced that “doubling down” the conflict will improve the outcome for Russia.
“He’s in a frame of mind where he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,” Burns said at a Financial Times event.
Putin declared victory in Mariupol on April 21, ordered the plant closed and urged Ukrainian forces to disarm. Russia later resumed its attack. see More information
Moscow has called its actions since February 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fostered by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war.
In Kiev on Saturday, the World Health Organization said it had documented 200 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine, the latest allegations of war crimes by Russian forces. Russia has denied attacking civilian targets. see More information
Mariupol, which lies between the Crimean peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-backed separatists that year, is instrumental in linking the two Russian-held territories and blocking Ukrainian exports.
The Ukrainian General Staff said Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine is aimed at establishing full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and maintaining the land corridor between these territories and Crimea.
Ukrainian armed forces fighting in the two eastern regions controlled by Russian-speaking separatists said in a Facebook post that they fought nine enemy attacks on Saturday, destroying 19 tanks and 24 other armored vehicles, as well as shooting down a helicopter.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russia dropped a bomb on a school in the village of Bilohorivka, where about 90 people were sheltering. About 30 have been rescued so far, he said on Facebook.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the alleged bombing.
Zelenskiy in his speech expressed outrage over Russian bombing overnight that destroyed a museum dedicated to 18th-century philosopher and poet Hryhoriy Skovoroda in the village of Skovorodynivka, near Kharkiv. see More information
Other Russian attacks near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, blew up three road bridges to slow counter-offensive actions, the Ukrainian military’s general staff said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it had destroyed a large stockpile of US and European military equipment near the Bohodukhiv railway station in the Kharkiv region.
Russian forces hit 18 Ukrainian military installations overnight, including three ammunition depots in Dachne, near the southern port city of Odesa, the ministry said.
Reuters was unable to independently verify statements by either side about battlefield events.
The speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, accused Washington of coordinating military operations in Ukraine, which he said amounted to direct US involvement in military actions against Russia. see More information
US officials said the United States provided Ukraine with intelligence to help fight the Russian attack, but denied that such intelligence included accurate targeting data.
Washington and European members of NATO’s transatlantic alliance have provided Kiev with heavy weapons but say they will not participate in the fighting.
A top Russian commander said last month that Russia planned to take full control of southern Ukraine to improve Russian access to Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova.
Pro-Russian separatists in Moldova said Transnistria was hit four times by suspicious drones overnight near the Ukrainian border. see More information
Ukraine has repeatedly denied any blame for the incidents, saying it believes Russia is staging the attacks to provoke war. Moscow also denied blame. see More information
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Reuters agencies; additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Written by William Maclean, Frank Jack Daniel and Simon Lewis Edited by William Mallard, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.