UN plans third evacuation of Azovstal steelworks as battle continues to rage | Ukraine

UN plans third evacuation of Azovstal steelworks as battle continues to rage |  Ukraine

A third United Nations operation was underway on Friday morning to evacuate Ukrainian civilians from the Russian-besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, which the UN secretary-general described as a series of “hellish landscapes”.

About 200 civilians, as well as Ukrainian resistance fighters, remained trapped in underground safe houses in the huge industrial complex. UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said a convoy was heading for Azovstal “to receive the civilians who remain in this bleak hell…and bring them back to safety”.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said people would be evacuated from Mariupol on Friday at noon local time. The UN and the Red Cross said they had so far helped nearly 500 civilians flee the southern port city’s steelworks area in two operations last week.

It came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Russian invasion had devastated hundreds of hospitals and other medical facilities and left doctors without cancer drugs or the ability to perform a surgical intervention.

Zelenskiy said that in eastern and southern Ukraine, the main battlefields, many places lacked even basic antibiotics. “If you only consider medical infrastructure, to date Russian troops have destroyed or damaged almost 400 health facilities: hospitals, maternity wards, outpatient clinics,” Zelenskiy said in a video address to a charity medical group.

In areas occupied by Russian forces, the situation was dire, he said. “This equates to a complete lack of medicine for cancer patients. This means extreme difficulty or a complete lack of insulin for diabetes. It is impossible to perform surgery. It even means, quite simply, a lack of antibiotics.

Russia unleashed heavy artillery barrages against several Ukrainian positions in the south and east of the country. As Victory Day, May 9, approaches in Russia, Vladimir Putin is believed to want to portray the occupation of Mariupol for domestic propaganda purposes. Ukrainian soldiers said the fighting continued to rage, with Russian forces making a final push to enter the steelworks and subdue the city’s last defenders.

Kremlin officials and propagandists flocked to Mariupol ahead of VE Day with cleanup crews clearing rubble and patriotic statues to Russia being erected. Ukrainian intelligence said Russia planned to hold part of its key parade in the city.

“Mariupol, according to [Russia’s] plans, should become the focus of ‘celebrations’,” Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Agency said. “To this end, the city is urgently clearing the central streets of rubble, corpses and unexploded Russian ordnance.”

The Russian President proclaimed victory in the whole of Mariupol on April 21 and ordered the closure of the steel plant. The Kremlin said Putin demanded that Ukrainian fighters in Azovstal surrender in exchange for safe passage for civilians.

A Ukrainian fighter who said he was locked up in Azovstal accused Russian forces of breaching the factory’s defenses for a third day despite Moscow’s pledge to suspend military activity to allow civilian evacuations.

“Violent and bloody fighting is taking place,” said Captain Sviatoslav Palamar of the Ukrainian Azov regiment. “Once again, the Russians have not kept the promise of a ceasefire.” Reuters could not independently verify his account or location. Official Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated a claim that Putin ordered his army not to storm the factory.

Ukraine’s stubborn defense of Azovstal underscored Russia’s failure to take major cities in a 10-week war that united Western powers by arming kyiv and punishing Moscow with sanctions.

In other key developments:

  • It is “unlikely” that Ukraine will be able to launch a counter-offensive before mid-June, when it hopes to have received more weapons from its allies, an adviser to Zelenskiy said. Oleksiy Arestovych added that he did not expect the Russian offensive in Ukraine to produce “significant results” by May 9.

  • The United States said it shared intelligence with Ukraine on the location of the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva before the attack that sank the warship, but said the decision to attack was made by the Ukrainians.

  • The US Department of Defense also denied providing intelligence on the locations of Russian generals on the battlefield so that Ukrainian forces could kill them.

  • European Union countries are “almost there” to agree to the bloc’s proposed new sanctions package against Russia, including an oil embargo, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday.

  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres has urged the world to unite and end the war in Ukraine, calling it senseless, ruthless and “unlimited in its potential for global harm”. The top UN human rights official said even a one-day ceasefire would prevent dozens of civilian deaths.

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