Russia carried out missile strikes in southern and eastern Ukraine on Saturday, Ukrainian officials said, while some women and children were evacuated from a steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol after staying there for more than a week.
Moscow has turned its attention to southern and eastern Ukraine after failing to capture the capital, kyiv, in a nine-week assault that leveled cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee abroad.
His forces have captured the city of Kherson in the south, giving them a foothold just 100 kilometers north of Crimea – annexed a few years ago by Russia – and have largely occupied Mariupol, a strategic eastern port city in the Sea of Azov.
Russia declared victory in Mariupol on April 21 even as hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians took refuge in the Azovstal steel mill. The United Nations has urged an evacuation deal, and on Saturday, a Ukrainian fighter inside said some 20 women and children had managed to escape.
“We are pulling civilians out of the rubble with ropes: it is the elderly, women and children,” said fighter Sviatoslav Palamar, referring to the wreckage inside the 4-square-kilometre plant. Palamar said that both Russia and Ukraine were respecting a local ceasefire and that he expected the evacuated civilians to be transferred to the northwestern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia.
There was no Russian comment on the evacuations. Hundreds of Ukrainians remain inside, according to Ukrainian officials.
To the west, in Odessa, which has so far emerged relatively unscathed from the war, a Russian missile attack launched from Crimea destroyed the runway of the main airport, said Maksym Marchenko, the Odessa regional governor.
“Thank God no one was injured. Anti-sabotage measures are being carried out in the region,” Marchenko said. The Ukrainian military assured that the airport could no longer be used.
There was no immediate comment on the attack from Moscow, whose forces have sporadically attacked Odessa, Ukraine’s third-largest city. Eight people were killed in a Russian attack on the city last week, according to Ukrainian officials.
Moscow’s assault on the south is aimed in part at linking the area with Crimea while pushing for full control over Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. Parts of the two Donbass provinces, Luhansk and Donetsk, were already controlled by Russian-backed separatists before the invasion of Moscow on February 24.
Moscow calls its actions a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fostered by the West. Ukraine and the West say that Russia has launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
Despite weeks of peace talks, the two sides seemed further apart than ever on Saturday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said lifting Western sanctions on Moscow was part of the negotiations, but Ukraine’s chief negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, denied that was the case.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has insisted that sanctions must be strengthened and cannot be negotiated. He warned on Friday that there was a high risk the talks would end because of what he called Russia’s “playbook on killing people.”
Ukraine accuses Russian soldiers of atrocities in areas near the capital, kyiv, which they previously occupied. Moscow denies the claims. The negotiators last met face-to-face on March 29 and have spoken via video link ever since.
The United States and its European allies have imposed sweeping sanctions on the Russian economy and provided weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden is seeking a $33 billion aid package, including $20 billion for weapons, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday that his country would continue “providing the Ukrainians with the equipment they they need to defend themselves.
Lavrov said that if Washington and its partners in the NATO military alliance really want to resolve the crisis, they should stop sending weapons to kyiv.
everything is destroyed
In the Donetsk town of Dobropillia, the shock wave from an attack on Saturday blew out the windows of an apartment building and left a large crater in the courtyard.
One resident, who gave only his first name of Andriy, said his partner was in a room overlooking the courtyard at the time of the attack and was knocked unconscious. “Thank God all four kids were in the kitchen,” he assured, standing in the destroyed living room.
“Around 9:20 am, this happiness flew into our house,” another resident, Oleh, said sarcastically. “Everything is destroyed.”
Meanwhile, Russia reported on Saturday more Ukrainian attacks on its territory.
Officials in Russia’s Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine and Belarus, said air defenses had prevented a Ukrainian plane from entering. The resulting shelling hit parts of a Russian oil terminal, they said.
South of Bryansk in Russia’s Kursk region, also on the Ukrainian border, several projectiles were fired from Ukraine towards a Russian checkpoint, Kursk Governor Roman Starovoit said. There were no casualties or damage, he added.
Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility for a number of such incidents on Russian territory. But he described a series of explosions in southern Russia on Wednesday as revenge and “karma” for the invasion of Moscow.
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