‘Heavy fighting’ in eastern Ukraine as Mariupol evacuation delayed » Capital News


Volodymyr Zelensky said the evacuees were due to arrive in Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhzhia on Monday. © AFP / Ed JONES

kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP), May 2 – Ukrainian authorities hoped to evacuate more civilians from the beleaguered port city of Mariupol on Monday, as the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine continued with “active and intense” fighting.

kyiv said more than 100 civilians were evacuated over the weekend from the sprawling factory in Azovstal, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol that has been surrounded by Russian forces since they invaded Ukraine on February 24.

They were expected Monday in Zaporizhzhia under Ukrainian control, where vehicles from UNICEF and other international NGOs were waiting.

As part of coordinated efforts between Ukraine, Russia and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), another evacuation was due to begin first thing Monday, but by lunchtime there was no had no signs of movement.

Several hundred Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have taken refuge in the maze of Soviet-era underground tunnels under the steelworks, many of which require medical attention.

“For the first time, there were two days of real ceasefire in this territory. More than 100 civilians have already been evacuated, women and children in the first place,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday evening.

The Russian armed forces said 46 civilians left Azovstal on Saturday and decided “voluntarily” to stay in the separatist region of Donetsk.

Another 80 were released on Sunday – 69 of whom left for Kyiv-controlled territory, he added. They were “handed over to representatives of the UN and the ICRC”, the Russian ministry said earlier.

The Moscow army has refocused its offensive on the east, after failing to take the Ukrainian capital kyiv © AFP/Yasuyoshi CHIBA

Mariupol is an important strategic hub connecting southern and eastern parts of Russian-held Ukraine and has seen some of the worst fighting.

With the Russian siege leaving residents in dire conditions with little access to food, water and medicine, the city has become emblematic of a war that has uprooted more than 13 million people from their homes. and killed thousands.

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– ‘Active and violent fighting’ –

Mariupol: operation to evacuate civilians from Azovstal © AFP

After failing to take the capital kyiv in the first weeks of the war, the Muscovite army has refocused on eastern Ukraine, notably the Donbass region, which includes the pro-Russian separatist areas of Donetsk and Lugansk.

The fighting is particularly intense around Izyum, Lyman and Rubizhne, as the Russians prepare their attack on Severodonetsk, the last eastern city still held by kyiv, the Ukrainian general staff said.

“The situation in the Lugansk region can be described in a few words – active and intense fighting continues,” the Defense Ministry added.

Luhansk governor says he expects more intense battles ahead of May 9, the day Russia celebrates Nazi Germany’s 1945 surrender to allied forces, including the then Soviet Union .

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Italian television on Sunday that Moscow’s forces “will not artificially adjust their actions to any date, including Victory Day.”

In the same interview, when asked about Moscow’s stated goal with the conflict to “denazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine, Lavrov claimed that Adolf Hitler may have “Jewish blood.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid – who has sought to maintain a delicate balance between the two sides in the conflict – condemned the remarks as wrong, “unforgivable and outrageous”.

– ‘Relentless fear’ –

Russia has moved to tighten its grip on areas it controls and on Sunday introduced the Russian ruble to the Kherson region, initially intended to be used alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia.

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“From May 1, we will move into the ruble zone,” said Kirill Stremousov, civil and military administrator of Kherson, quoted by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Russia has taken steps to tighten its grip on the areas it controls © AFP / SERGEY BOBOK

He said the hryvnia could be used for a period of four months, but then “we will completely switch to ruble settlements.”

On the eastern front line, Russian troops – aided by heavy use of artillery – advanced slowly but steadily.

But Ukrainian forces have also retaken some territory in recent days, including the village of Ruska Lozova, which evacuees said had been occupied for two months.

“It was two months of terrible fear. Nothing else, terrible and relentless fear,” Natalia, a 28-year-old evacuee from Ruska Lozova, told AFP after reaching Kharkiv.

kyiv has admitted that Russian forces have captured a series of villages in the Donbass region and has asked Western powers to provide more heavy weapons to bolster its defenses there.

Western powers have sought to ratchet up the pressure on Russia as its attack on Ukraine drags on © AFP / Sergei SUPINSKY

Meanwhile, kyiv said on Monday its drones had sunk two Russian patrol boats near the Black Sea Snake Island, which has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance after soldiers there rebuffed Russian demands to surrender. .

“The Bayraktars work,” said Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, referring to Turkish-made military drones.

– US eyes kyiv return –

Western powers imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia during the war while delivering cash and arms to Ukraine, including a $33 billion ($31 billion) arms and support program. euros) announced by US President Joe Biden last week.

The European Union is drawing up a phased ban on Russian oil imports as part of new measures that could be imposed on member states as early as Wednesday, sources told AFP on Sunday.

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Several diplomats said the oil ban was made possible after a policy reversal by Germany, which resisted the measure as too disruptive and potentially damaging to its economy.

EU energy ministers were due to discuss the ban – which needs unanimous backing and could yet be derailed – during talks in Brussels on Monday.

In a symbolic show of support, many Western countries are also reopening their embassies in Kyiv which were closed due to the invasion, with Denmark the latest to make the move on Monday.

Kristina Kvien, the American charge d’affaires, announced that Washington hopes that its diplomats will be back in kyiv “by the end of the month”.

Russia has been looking for ways to fend off growing international pressure.

Speaker of the lower house of parliament Vyacheslav Volodin has suggested that Moscow could seize Russian-based assets from countries it deems hostile. “It’s right to take reciprocal action,” he said.

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