Artillery vehicle

Russian artillery pound eastern Ukraine as more Mariupol civilians evacuate besieged steelworks

Russian forces unleashed artillery fire on towns in eastern Ukraine, killing and wounding dozens of civilians, and began storming the bombed Mariupol steelworks from where dozens of people were evacuated after enduring weeks of bombardment against the last pocket of resistance in the city.

The governor of the eastern Donetsk region said Russian attacks left 21 people dead on Tuesday, the highest death toll since April 8, when a missile attack on Kramatorsk railway station killed at least 59 people.

Adding pressure on Moscow, the European Union leader on Wednesday called on the 27-nation bloc to ban imports of Russian oil in a fresh wave of sanctions.

Efforts continue to evacuate hundreds of civilians trapped in bunkers under the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol. The town’s mayor said more civilians are leaving Mariupol today with the help of the United Nations and the Red Cross.

The convoy leaving Mariupol, organized by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, was heading for the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

He did not say how many buses were in the convoy or whether other civilians had been evacuated from the sprawling Azovstal steelworks, where the city’s last defenders are resisting Russian forces that have occupied Mariupol.

The first evacuees from Azovstal arrived by bus in Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday after cowering for weeks in bunkers under the sprawling Soviet-era steelworks.

Through the weekend evacuation effort, 101 people – including women, the elderly and 17 children, the youngest aged 6 months – emerged from bunkers under Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks to “see the daylight after two months,” said Osnat Lubrani, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Wednesday authorities plan to continue efforts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and nearby areas if the security situation permits. Lubrani also expressed hope for further evacuations, but said none had been resolved.

The news for those left behind was grimmer. Ukrainian commanders said Russian forces backed by tanks had begun storming the sprawling factory, which includes a maze of tunnels and bunkers spread over 11 square kilometers (4 square miles).

It is unclear how many Ukrainian fighters were still inside, but the Russians put their number at around 2,000 in recent weeks, and 500 were reportedly injured. A few hundred civilians also remained there, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

“We will do everything possible to repel the assault, but we call for urgent measures to evacuate the civilians who remain inside the factory and get them out safely,” said Sviatoslav Palamar, commander. deputy of the Ukrainian Azov regiment. Telegram messaging app.

He added that throughout the night the factory was hit by naval artillery fire and airstrikes. Two female civilians were killed and 10 civilians injured, he said.

In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that by storming the steel mill, Russian forces violated agreements for safe evacuation. He said the previous evacuations are “not yet a victory, but it is already a result. I believe there is still a chance to save other people.

Meanwhile, Belarus, a close ally of Russia and Ukraine’s neighbor to the north, has launched large-scale military exercises – a potential cause for alarm in Ukraine.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said the exercises involved testing the combat readiness of its army vehicles, but added that the exercise did not pose a threat to neighbours.

When Russia struck northern Ukraine, including the capital kyiv, a few weeks ago, Ukrainian officials said some of the missiles appeared to have come from the Belarusian side of the border.

(with AP inputs)

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Posted: Wednesday May 4th 2022, 3:21 PM IST