Ukraine evacuates civilians from besieged steel plant


ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces fired cruise missiles at the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa on Saturday and shelled a beleaguered steel mill in Mariupol, hoping to complete their conquest of the port in time for VE Day celebrations

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces fired cruise missiles at the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa on Saturday and shelled a beleaguered steel mill in Mariupol, hoping to complete their conquest of the port in time for Victory Day celebrations. Authorities announced that the last women, children and elderly people had been evacuated from the mill, but the Ukrainian fighters remained trapped.

In a sign of the unexpectedly effective defense that sustained the fighting into its 11th week, the Ukrainian army razed Russian positions on a Black Sea island that was captured in the early days of the war and is become a symbol of resistance. Western military analysts also said a Ukrainian counteroffensive was advancing around the country’s second city, Kharkiv, even as it remained a key Russian bombing target.

The largest European conflict since World War II has turned into a punitive war of attrition that has killed thousands of people, forced millions to flee their homes and destroyed large swaths of some cities. Ukraine’s leaders have warned the attacks will only get worse as Russia’s holiday approaches on Monday, celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany 77 years ago, and President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged people to hold on heed air raid warnings.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that Zelenskyy and his people “embodied the spirit of those who prevailed in World War II.” He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to “distort history in an attempt to justify his unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine”.

“As war rages once again in Europe, we must strengthen our resolve to stand up to those who now seek to manipulate historical memory in order to advance their own ambitions,” Blinken said in a statement as the United States and the United Kingdom commemorated the Allied victory in Europe. .

The heaviest fighting in recent days has been in eastern Ukraine, where both sides are entrenched in a fierce battle to capture or reclaim territory. Moscow’s offensive has focused on the industrial Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

Moscow has also sought to sweep across southern Ukraine both to cut the country off from the sea and to create a corridor to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, long sheltered by Russian troops. But he struggled to achieve those goals.

On Saturday, six Russian cruise missiles fired from planes hit the Odessa region, where a curfew is in place until Tuesday morning. Videos posted on social media showed thick black smoke rising above the Black Sea port city as sirens wailed.

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed Ukraine targeting the Russian-held Snake Island in an attempt to obstruct Russian efforts to control the Black Sea. An image taken early Saturday by Planet Labs PBC showed most of the buildings on the island had been destroyed by Ukrainian drone attacks, as well as what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft against the north beach of the Isle.

The image matches Ukrainian military video showing a drone hitting the Russian vessel, engulfing it in flames. Snake Island, located about 35 kilometers (20 miles) off the coast, featured in a memorable incident early in the war when Ukrainian border guards stationed there defied Russian orders to surrender, allegedly using a colorful language.

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters took a final stand against a full Russian takeover of the strategically important city, which would give Moscow a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Ukraine in a 2014 invasion.

Satellite photos taken by Planet Labs PBC on Friday showed widespread devastation at the sprawling seaside steelworks of Azovstal, the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the city. The buildings had gaping holes in the roofs, including one under which hundreds of fighters were probably hiding.

After rescuers evacuated the last civilians on Saturday, Zelenskyy said in his evening speech that the focus would be on extracting the wounded and medics: “Of course, if everyone sticks to the agreements. Of course, if there are no lies.

He added that work would also continue on Sunday to secure humanitarian corridors allowing residents of Mariupol and surrounding towns to leave.

The situation at the factory has caught the world’s attention, with the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross desperately trying to organize evacuations.

In recent days, fighters inside have described bringing out small groups of civilians who had been hiding there for weeks. The fighters said via social media that they and the Russians had used a white flag system to stop fighting to get civilians out.

But Russian forces stepped up fire on the mill with mortars, artillery, truck-mounted rocket systems, aerial bombardment and shelling from the sea, making evacuation operations difficult.

Three Ukrainian fighters were reportedly killed and six others injured during an evacuation attempt on Friday. Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment, said his troops waved white flags and he accused Russian forces of firing an anti-tank weapon at a vehicle.

It remains unclear what will happen to the estimated 2,000 fighters in Azovstal, both those still fighting and the hundreds who are believed to be injured. In recent days, the Ukrainian government has contacted international organizations to try to guarantee them safe passage. The fighters have repeatedly sworn not to surrender.

Zelenskyy said officials were trying to find a way to evacuate them. He acknowledged the difficulty, but said: “We don’t give up hope, we don’t stop. Every day we search for a diplomatic option that might work.

Russian forces probed the plant and even entered its maze of tunnels, according to Ukrainian officials.

Kharkiv, which was the first Soviet capital in Ukraine and had a population of about 4 million before the war, remained a key target of Russian bombardment in the northeast. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday that the Russian military also touched large arms shipments from the United States and other Western countries with Iskander missiles in the region. His claims could not be independently verified.

But Western military analysts said Ukrainian forces were making progress in securing positions around the town. The Ukrainian army said it had regained control of five villages in the area and part of a sixth.

A Washington-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, said in its latest assessment that Ukraine may be able to push Russian forces “out of Kharkiv’s artillery range in the coming days. “, offering respite to City and an opportunity to build the defenders’ momentum “into a successful and wider counter-offensive”.

Overnight, a Russian missile destroyed a national museum in the Kharkiv region dedicated to the life and work of 18th-century philosopher and poet Gregory Skovoroda, the local council said. He posted photographs on Facebook showing the building engulfed in flames.

Zelenskyy expressed outrage at the missile attacks on the museum and on Odessa, “where almost every street has something memorable, something historical.” He said Russian forces had destroyed or damaged about 200 cultural heritage sites.

“Every day of this war, the Russian military is doing something that leaves you speechless,” he said. “But the next day he does something that makes you feel that in a new way.”

In the eastern region of Luhansk, Governor Serhiy Haidai said two boys aged 11 and 14 were killed by Russian shelling in the town of Pryvillia, while two girls aged 8 and 12 and a woman aged 69 years had been injured.


Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine:

Elena Becatoros and Jon Gambrell, Associated Press


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