Dozens more civilians have been rescued from tunnels under a besieged steel plant in Mariupol, where Ukrainian militants have recently been working to prevent Russia from completely seizing a strategically important port.
Russian and Ukrainian officials said 50 people had been evacuated from the Azovstal plant and handed over to representatives of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Russian military said the group included 11 children.
Russian officials and Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Verashchuk said the evacuation would continue on Saturday. The latter were evacuated in addition to about 500 other civilians who have left the plant and the city in recent days.
The struggle for the last Ukrainian fortress in a city ruined by Russian pressure has been increasingly desperate amid growing speculation that President Vladimir Putin wants to triumph over the Russian people in time for Monday’s Victory Day, Russia’s biggest patriotic holiday. . calendar.
As the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II over Nazi Germany approached, cities across Ukraine were preparing for an expected increase in Russian attacks, and officials urged residents to pay attention to air raid warnings.
“These symbolic dates for the Russian aggressor are red for the bull,” said First Deputy Interior Minister of Ukraine Yevhen Enin. “While these days the whole civilized world remembers the victims of terrible wars, the Russian Federation wants advice and is preparing to dance over the bones in Mariupol.”
According to the latest estimates by Russia, about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters hid in a wide maze of tunnels and bunkers under the Azovstal metallurgical plants, and they repeatedly refused to surrender. Ukrainian officials said before the evacuation on Friday that several hundred civilians were also trapped there, and fears for their safety have intensified as the battle has intensified in recent days.
Some of the previous evacuated plant described the horrors surrounding death in a moldy underground bunker with little food and water, poor medical care and diminished hope.
Fighters defending the plant said on Friday that Russian troops had fired on an evacuation vehicle at the plant. They said that during the shelling the car was moving towards civilians and that one soldier was killed and six were injured.
Russia took control of the rest of Mariupol after two months of bombing. About 100,000 civilians remain there with scarce supplies of food, water, electricity and heat. On the eve of Victory Day, bulldozers were picking up garbage, and people were sweeping the streets against the backdrop of hollowed-out buildings. Russian flags were hoisted.
The fall of Mariupol would allow Russia to create a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free part of Russian troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbass, an eastern industrial region the Kremlin says is now its main target. .
While they fought back at the plant, Russian troops struggled to achieve significant success elsewhere, 10 weeks of devastating war that took thousands of people, forced millions to leave the country and destroyed large areas of cities.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian military said on Friday that its forces had repulsed 11 attacks in the Donbas and made progress in the north-eastern Kharkiv region, returning five villages and part six.