Russia launched its first tank and infantry attack on the Azovstal steel mill, the last part of the Ukrainian resistance in the strategic port of Mariupol, on Tuesday when the UN announced it had successfully evacuated civilians from the area.
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“A powerful attack on the territory of Azovstal is currently underway, with the support of armored vehicles, tanks, with attempts to land troops, with the help of boats and a large number of elements of infantry,” said Sviatoslav Palamar , deputy commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, in a video message on Telegram.
Shortly before that, the Russian Defense Ministry had announced that aircraft and artillery from the Russian army and the pro-Russian “People’s Republic” of Donetsk had begun to “destroy” Ukrainian “firing positions”.
He accused the Azov regiment, which defends the factory, of having taken advantage of the ceasefire decreed to evacuate the civilians, get out of the cellars of the steel factory and position itself “on the territory and in the factory buildings.
Until now, Russian troops have stormed this steel mill by air and sea, whose immense World War II underground galleries sheltered fighters and civilians deprived of water, food and medicine, without attempting to enter.
On April 21, Vladimir Putin said he had ordered his troops not to launch an attack, but to blockade the area “so that no fly would pass through”.
Two women were killed and a dozen other civilians injured in the shelling that preceded the attack, Palamar said in his video message, indicating other civilians were on the scene.
In the morning, the Ukrainian presidency announced it would continue its efforts, together with the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to evacuate the civilians left behind in Azovstal, according to Mariupol mayor Vadim Boitchenko.
This weekend, for the first time in two months of siege and bombing, 100 civilians who had entrenched themselves in the cellars of the massive steel factory were able to be evacuated.
Some of them arrived on Tuesday in the city of Zaporizhzhya, a Ukrainian-controlled city 230 km northwest of Mariupol.
“I am pleased and relieved to confirm that 101 civilians have been successfully evacuated from the Azovstal metallurgical plant in Mariupol,” United Nations Humanitarian Aid Coordinator for Ukraine Osnat Lubrani said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We are extremely grateful to everyone who has helped us. There was a moment when we lost hope, we thought everyone had forgotten about us,” said one of the evacuees, Anna Zaitseva, upon arrival with a six-month-old baby in her arms.
In a phone call that lasted more than two hours with President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron asked him to “allow the continuation of (these) evacuations”.
In addition, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the first Western leader to address the Ukrainian parliament since the conflict began on February 24, promised him additional military aid of EUR 355 million for Kiev.
“This is Ukraine’s most beautiful hour, which will be remembered and told for generations,” said Boris Johnson, referring to Winston Churchill’s famous speech on June 18, 1940.
This new aid includes “radar to locate the artillery bombing your cities, heavy transport drones to resupply your troops and thousands of night vision goggles,” he said.
The announcement came as President Putin called on the West to stop supplying arms to Ukraine.
In the east of the country, the Russians continue their offensive.
Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and nearby towns continue to be bombed, according to the Ukrainian General Staff.
A strike at a factory in Avdiivka, a town near the frontline, killed at least 10 people and injured 15, the governor of the Donetsk region said.
At least nine other people were killed in shelling in the Donetsk region on Tuesday, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
To the south, the large city of Odessa is once again the target of Russian missiles.
Ukrainians fear that this important port is one of Moscow’s targets, especially since a Russian general claimed that the Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine was aimed at creating a corridor from Russia to the breakaway Moldavian region of Transnistria, which would pass through Odessa. to go.
According to the presidency’s morning report, the center of Mykolaiv, east of Odessa, was hit Monday evening. An investigation has been launched into possible “torture and murder” during the Russian occupation of a place in this region, the services of the prosecutor general of Ukraine also reported on Telegram on Tuesday.
“According to the investigation, the bodies of two residents with traces of gunshot wounds have been found in a mass grave in the village of Novofontanka” and “one of the men had his legs tied,” they specify.
In Kalynivka, in the Kiev region, according to Mykhaïlo Podoliak, adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, a grave was also found containing two civilians, with “nails pulled out” and “hands tied”.
The Europeans are working on their side to tighten their economic sanctions against Moscow.
The European Commission has finalized its proposal for a sixth sanctions package against Moscow to stop funding the war against Ukraine.
It provides for a phasing out of European purchases of Russian oil over a period of 6 to 8 months, with an exemption for Hungary and Slovakia, two landlocked countries that depend entirely on supplies through the Druzhba pipeline and purchases will continue to Russia until 2023, a European official said.
The approach of May 9, the date when Russia celebrates the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany, fuels speculation about how Moscow might announce victories in Ukraine.
According to Ukrainian military intelligence, “Russia is exploring the possibility of attaching the invaded areas of southern Ukraine to occupied Crimea and integrating them into the Russian economic space.” “The Russian occupation regime is trying to convince the local population that (Russia) has definitively established its control over the occupied territories,” they say.
In Washington, US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Michael Carpenter, on Monday reported “highly credible” information that Russia plans to hold referendums “around mid-May” to “try to annex » the pro-Russian separatist «republics» Donetsk and Lugansk, in Donbass (Eastern Ukraine).