Mariupol: Expert discusses evacuation of Ukrainian civilians
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Many of the civilians have sought shelter in a warren of underground tunnels at the Azovstal plant since the beginning of the invasion in February. Backed by air strikes, yesterday’s assault on the huge complex was an attempt to eliminate the last pocket of resistance in the besieged port city, a strategic target in the Kremlin’s plans to unite the Donbas region with Crimea. Up to 2,000 Ukrainian troops are inside the plant having pledged to mount a last stand and carry out counter attacks.
The resumed assault represents a reversal from an order Vladimir Putin gave three days earlier to lay siege and starve those left in the plant out. Attacks were also carried out in eastern Ukraine and Odesa. And yesterday, in a phone call Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky updated Boris Johnson on the situation. TARGET: Sfrom Azoafter mor A No10 spokesman said: “Both leaders condemned ongoing attacks by Russian forces against civilian targets, including in Mariupol, Odesa and Lviv.
“Ahead of the UN Secretary General’s meetings with President Zelensky and President Putin next week, both leaders agreed on the importance of establishing a ceasefire and humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to leave Mariupol.” ” He added the Prime Minister said “Russia would be held to account for its actions”, the UK would help collect evidence of war crimes, work with partners to develop a long-term security solution for Ukraine and provide furtherfinancial support.
The assault on the steelworks comes as the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s national guard released video footage yesterday of around two dozen women and 15 children, from babies to young teenagers, sheltering in a crowded bunker. The word “Children” in red was painted on the walls as soldiers brought in food and other aid and gave sweets to youngsters who responded with fist bumps. Those sheltering spoke of “running out of strength” and pleaded to be evacuated to Ukrainian-held territory. A young girl said: “On February 27 my mother, my grandmother and I left our home.We haven’t seen the sky or sun since. “We want to get out of here very much. We want it to be safe for us, so no one is hurt and then live in safety. I don’t want to risk getting out only to be hit by bomb fragments.”
“And a woman said: “We want to see peaceful skies, we want to breathe in fresh air.” ” Another added: “We are here and need help.”We are at the epicentre of events and we can’t get out.
“We beg for guarantees of safety for our kids.”
The video was shot on Thursday, the same day Russia declared victory over the rest of Mariupol.
More than 100,000 people – down from a pre-war population of about 430,000 – are believed to be trapped in the devastated city. A planned evacuation yesterday was cancelled after Russian troops told 200 people gathered to catch a bus to safety to disperse because of possible shelling. It was also claimed 308 people, including 90 children, were forcibly deported 5,600 miles away to the Pacific portVladivostok at the eastern tip of Russia. With more than 20,000 civilians killed during the 59-day siege, evidence of mass graves on the outskirts of the city emerged last week.
Ukrainian MP Dmytro Gurin said they could contain 10,000 people. “Nobody knew where the Russian troops were taking these bodies and now we know,” he said. With most of Mariupol “liberated”, Russia has redeployed a dozen units to bolster the offensive elsewhere in the eastern Donbas region. But Russian troops have made little headway as fierce Ukrainian counter-attacks slowed their efforts. Ukraine’s general staff said its forces repelled eight Russian attacks over the past 24 hours.And here, the Ministry of Defence yesterday said Russia’s advances are so far being held back.
A statement said: “Despite increased activity, Russian forces have made no major gains in the last 24 hours as Ukrainian counter-attacks continue to hinder their efforts.”
It added: “Despite their stated conquest of Mariupol, heavyfighting continues to take place frustrating Russian attempts to capture the city thus further slowing their desired progress in the Donbas.”
“Meanwhile, cruise missiles struck the coastal city of Odesa yesterday, killing eigh including a three-month-old baby, and injuring 18. Among the buildings hit was a high-rise block of flats. At least two missiles were downed by air defences”
President Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said the young victim was “a child who was about to celebrate the first Easter with his parents”, adding: “Nothing sacred. Evil will be punished.”
And the country’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said: “The only aim of Russian missile strikes on Odesa is terror.”
The city has so far been spared the full onslaught from Russia, but stands in the way of its plans to seize all coastal areas up to the Moldova border.
Two Russian generals were killed after a command post near Kherson by the Black Sea was hit on Friday, Ukrainian intelligence said.
Another was critically injured. And Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, said towns were coming under constant shelling, killing at least four civilians.
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