One hundred civilians evacuated from the Azovstal site in Mariupol

Dozens of civilians were evacuated on Sunday from the city of Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine, where they were trapped in the Azovstal steel complex with Ukrainian soldiers still resisting Russian bombs.

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The UN confirmed that this operation, which began on Saturday and was carried out in coordination between Ukraine, Russia and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), is continuing.

“Today this vital humanitarian corridor has started functioning for the first time since the start of the war. For the first time, there has been a real two-day ceasefire in this area,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message on Sunday evening.

“More than a hundred civilians have already been evacuated, primarily women and children,” the president said, adding that the first evacuees would arrive Monday morning in Zaporizhzhya, a town west of Mariupol.

Mr Zelensky added “hope that the conditions will be met to continue the evacuations from Mariupol”. “We plan to start at 8am”.

The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, assured that “thanks to the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, 80 civilians, including women and children, who were detained by Ukrainian nationalists, were rescued from the factory’s territory.” Azovstal in Mariupol (… ), were evacuated to the village of Bezimennoye in the Donetsk People’s Republic (under Russian control, editor’s note), where they received shelter, food and necessary medical care.

“Citizens (…) who wanted to leave for areas controlled by the Kiev regime have been handed over to representatives of the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the ministry added.

A video released by the Russian Defense Ministry shows a convoy of cars and buses driving in the dark, decorated with the letter “Z”, symbol of the Russian armed forces in this conflict.

The ICRC told him on Sunday that “a convoy of buses and ambulances left on April 29 and traveled 230 km to reach the Mariupol factory on Saturday morning” as part of the evacuation operation to Zaporizhzhya.

Thousands of civilians had been able to leave Mariupol since the start of the war on February 24, a port city populated by half a million inhabitants before the war and now under Russian control after weeks of bombing that almost completely destroyed it and left at least 20,000 dead. according to the Ukrainians.

But this is the first time, after several failed attempts, despite the intervention of foreign officials and Pope Francis, that civilians holed up in the Azovstal complex, the last Ukrainian resistance group crushed by Russian bombs, have been able to escape.

The Pope had renewed his call for the opening of safe humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from “Marioupol, city of Mary, bombed and destroyed in a barbaric manner” during Angelus prayer at the Vatican on Sunday.

New satellite images from Maxar Technologies, taken on April 29, showed that nearly all of the buildings of the massive steel complex had been destroyed by the bombing raids, with Ukrainian soldiers and civilians holed up in the many Soviet-era underground galleries. with very powerful armor-piercing bombs.

The commander of the 36th Ukrainian Naval Brigade entrenched in Azovstal, Serguiï Volynsky, had thus indicated on Thursday that a Russian bomb had destroyed the underground field hospital set up at the site.

“All medical infrastructure, the operating room was wiped out. Many of our boys died instantly. Many of the injured received new wounds. The situation is becoming even more critical,” he had forwarded to the Ukrainian site Levy Bereg, having already reported 600 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians the day before.

Faced with a slow advance of Russian troops, in numerical superiority and better equipped with heavy weapons, in the east of its territory, having defeated them at the start of the offensive around Kiev, Ukraine received the unannounced visit of a delegation this weekend of the United States Congress led by Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, received by Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Our delegation traveled to Kiev to send an unequivocal and resounding message to the whole world: the United States is on the side of Ukraine,” stressed the congressional delegation, which guarantees the American aid delivered in particular through a Lend-Lease program goes (Lend-Lease), similar to what the United States set up for its allies during World War II.

This visit came a week after the trip to Kiev from the head of US diplomacy Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who had announced more than $700 million in additional aid.

Ukraine continues to reiterate its urgent need for heavy armaments, especially armored vehicles and long-range howitzers, promised by the West.

A senior Ukrainian military official said on Saturday evening that he had informed US Army Chief of Staff Mark A. Milley of “the difficult situation in the east of our country, especially in the regions of Izium and Sieverodonetsk, where the enemy has most of his efforts and his most combat-ready troops”.

President Zelensky also warned on Saturday that the Russians “have formed fortifications in the Kharkov region in an effort to increase pressure in the Donbass”.

In the regions of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, and Donesk, eight civilians were killed in shelling on Sunday, including four in the city of Lyman alone, near the front, regional governors said.

It is on this eastern flank that the Russian army is nibbling ground, trying to hold its opponent in a vice from the north and south to complete its hold on the Donbass mining basin.

In the south, Russia’s defense ministry claimed that by attacking an airport near Odessa on Saturday, it destroyed “a hangar containing weapons and ammunition received from the United States and European countries,” as well as the runway.

The governor of the region, Maxim Marchenko, had reported on Saturday of a rocket attack on an airport in this hitherto relatively spare port city of one million inhabitants.

The Ukrainians allowed themselves to strike at their side on Russian territory.

After a series of explosions affecting infrastructure in Russia, attributed to raids by the Ukrainian army across the border, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region reported a fire in military installations on Saturday.

During the day, the governor of another border area, that of Kursk, attributed the collapse of a railway bridge to “sabotage”.

On the armaments side, amid the great hilly plains and industrial towns, the confrontation is essentially done with artillery. The balance of power there is extremely favorable for the Russians, up to “five times superior in equipment”, according to Iryna Terehovytch, sergeant of the 123rd Ukrainian Brigade.

In Brussels, European sources indicated that the EU is finalizing a phasing out of its purchases of oil and petroleum products from Russia to sanction the war in Ukraine and will announce a timetable and new measures this week.

“There is a political will to stop buying oil from Russia and we will have measures and a decision on a phased withdrawal next week,” said a European official involved in the discussions.

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