- Moscow escalates its offensive in southern and eastern Donbass
- Evacuation of women, children and the elderly from the Mariupol steel plant
- Odessa, Luhansk and Donetsk airports hit by missiles
- Officials offer conflicting views on peace negotiations
DOPROPELIA, Ukraine/Kyiv (Reuters) – Russia carried out missile strikes in southern and eastern Ukraine on Saturday and some women and children were evacuated from a steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol after being holed up, Ukrainian officials said. There over a week ago.
Moscow turned its focus toward southern and eastern Ukraine after it failed to capture the capital, Kyiv, in a nine-week offensive that flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than five million to flee abroad.
Its forces took control of the town of Kherson in the south, gave it a foothold just 100 kilometers north of Russia-annexed Crimea, and occupied mostly Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov.
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Russia declared victory in Mariupol on April 21 even as hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians took refuge in Azovstal’s steel mills. The United Nations urged an evacuation deal, and on Saturday, a Ukrainian fighter inside said about 20 women and children had succeeded.
“We are pulling civilians out of the rubble with ropes – they are old people, women and children,” said the fighter, Svyatoslav Palamar, referring to the wreckage inside the 4-square-kilometer factory.
Palamar said both Russia and Ukraine respected a local ceasefire, and he hoped to move the evacuated civilians to the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia, to the northwest.
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 been relatively unscathed by the war, a Russian missile strike from Crimea destroyed the runway at the main airport, said Maxim Marchenko, the governor of the Odessa region.
“Thank God, no one was hurt. Measures are being implemented to combat sabotage in the area,” Marchenko said. The Ukrainian military said the airport could no longer be used.
There was no immediate comment on the strike from Moscow, whose forces intermittently targeted Odessa, Ukraine’s third largest city. Ukrainian officials said eight people were killed in a Russian raid on the city last week.
Moscow’s offensive in the south is aimed in part at linking the region with Crimea as it presses for full control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. Russian-backed separatists were already in control of parts of the Donbass provinces, namely Luhansk and Donetsk, before the invasion of Moscow on February 24.
Moscow describes its actions as a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of the anti-Russian nationalism stoked by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia has launched an unjustified war of aggression.
Despite weeks of peace talks, the two sides appeared further apart than ever on Saturday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said lifting Western sanctions on Moscow was part of the negotiations, but senior Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak denied that was the case. Read more
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, insists that sanctions must be strengthened and cannot be negotiated. On Friday, he warned that talks could collapse due to what he called “Russia’s evidence of killing people”.
Ukraine accuses Russian forces of committing atrocities when they withdrew from areas near Kyiv in early April. Moscow denies these allegations. The negotiators last met face-to-face on March 29, and have since spoken via video link.
The United States and its European allies imposed sweeping sanctions on the Russian economy and supplied Ukraine with arms and humanitarian aid.
US President Joe Biden is seeking a $33 billion aid package for Kiev, including $20 billion in arms, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday that his country would continue to “provide Ukrainians with the equipment they need to defend themselves.”
Lavrov said that if Washington and its partners in the US-led NATO military alliance really wanted to resolve the crisis, they should stop sending weapons to Kyiv. Read more
In the Donetsk town of Dopropylya, an aftershock from Saturday’s strike blew out the windows of an apartment building and left a large crater in the yard.
One resident, who gave only his first name as Andrey, said that his partner was in a room facing the courtyard at the time of the attack and lost consciousness.
“Thank God, the four kids were in the kitchen,” he said, standing in the ruined living room.
Residents searched their properties to see what could be salvaged.
“At about 9:20 in the morning, such happiness flew into our house,” said another resident, Ole, sarcastically. “Everything is destroyed.”
Russia reported more Ukrainian strikes on its soil on Saturday.
Officials in Russia’s Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine and Belarus, said air defenses had prevented a Ukrainian plane from entering. They added that the resulting bombing hit parts of a Russian oil terminal.
Kursk Governor Roman Starovoit said several shells were fired from Ukraine towards a Russian checkpoint south of Bryansk in Russia’s Kursk region, also on the Ukrainian border. He added that there were no injuries or damage.
Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility for a series of such incidents on Russian soil. But she described the series of bombings in southern Russia on Wednesday as revenge and “karma” for the invasion of Moscow. Read more
(This story has been re-translated into “Russian” in the first line of “Russian”)
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Additional reporting by Hamouda Hassan and George Silva in Dopropylya, Ukraine, and Natalia Zenets in Kyiv; Additional coverage by Reuters journalists. Written by Francis Kerry and Ramy Ayoub. Editing by Catherine Evans, Hugh Lawson and Daniel Wallis
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