The UN has confirmed that an operation to evacuate people from a steel mill in the bombed Ukrainian city of Mariupol is underway.
UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu said on Sunday that efforts to get people out of the Azovstal steelworks were being carried out in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross and in coordination with officials. Ukrainians and Russians.
He described the situation as “very complex” and gave no further details.
It is believed that up to 1,000 civilians are dug in with around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters under the sprawling Soviet-era steelworks which is the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.
Ukraine has blamed the failure of numerous previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian shelling of Mariupol since early March.
Abreu said on Saturday that the world organization was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and Kyiv over evacuations, but he could not provide details on the ongoing effort “due to the complexity and fluidity of the process. ‘operation”.
Limited evacuations of the city took place on Saturday, but the details were unclear given the number of parties involved in the negotiations and the volatile situation on the ground.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a total of 46 people, a group of 25 and another numbering 21, had been evacuated from areas near the Azovstal plant.
A senior official of the Azov Regiment, the Ukrainian unit defending the steel plant, said on Saturday that 20 women and children had been evacuated from the plant itself.
“They are women and children,” Sviatoslav Palamar said in a video posted on the regiment’s Telegram channel. He also called for the evacuation of the wounded: “We don’t know why they are not taken away and their evacuation to Ukrainian-controlled territory is not discussed.”
Civilians took shelter in a maze of underground tunnels while the factory was under siege.
An Associated Press reporter saw women and children arrive in Bezimenne, a village controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, accompanied by UN and Red Cross officials.
Elsewhere in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, around 20 elderly people and children holding bags with their dogs and cats boarded a van on Saturday in the town of Lyman, where at least half of the population fled the Russian bombardments.
The van, marked with a sign reading “evacuation of children” in Ukrainian, sped towards the town of Dnipro as explosions were heard in the distance.
News of the Mariupol evacuation came as US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Ukraine’s president in the country’s capital as part of a show of US support.
Footage released early Sunday from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office showed Pelosi in Kyiv with a congressional delegation that included Representatives Jason Crow, Jim McGovern, Gregory Meeks and Adam Schiff. The visit had not been previously announced.
In a video later released by Pelosi’s office, both the speaker and Zelensky thanked each other for their support during the war.
“We will win and we will win together,” Zelensky said.
Pelosi added: “We are here until the victory is won.”
“Your fight is a fight for everyone”
“We believe we are visiting you to thank you for your fight for freedom,” said Pelosi, who is second in line to the US presidency after the vice president and the most senior US leader to visit Ukraine since November. start of the war.
“We are on the frontier of freedom and your fight is everyone’s fight. Our commitment is to be here for you until the fight is over,” Pelosi added.
“Our delegation traveled to Kyiv to send an unequivocal and resounding message to the world: America stands firmly with Ukraine,” she said in a statement released Sunday.
The delegation continued its trip to southeastern Poland, and Pelosi said she would later travel to the capital, Warsaw, to meet President Andrzej Duda and other senior officials. Poland has taken in more than three million Ukrainian refugees since Russia launched its war on February 24.
“We look forward to thanking our Polish allies for their dedication and humanitarian efforts,” she said.
Russian forces embarked on a major military operation to seize significant parts of southern and eastern Ukraine after their failure to capture the capital. Mariupol is a major target due to its strategic location near the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid have flowed into Ukraine since the war began, but Russia’s vast arsenals mean Ukraine will continue to need huge amounts of support.
With plenty of firepower still in reserve, the Russian offensive could intensify further and overtake the Ukrainians. Overall, the Russian army has about 900,000 men in active service. Russia also has a much larger air force and navy.
Zelensky gives a speech partly in Russian
In his nightly video address on Saturday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky switched to Russian to urge Russian troops not to fight in Ukraine, saying even their generals expect thousands of them to die.
The president warned that Russia was “gathering additional forces for further attacks against our military in the east of the country”. and accused Moscow of recruiting new soldiers “with little motivation and little combat experience” so that units gutted at the start of the war could be sent back to battle.
“But why do Russian soldiers need them? Why do their families need them? said Zelensky in Russian.
“Every Russian soldier can still save his own life,” Zelensky said. “It is better for you to survive in Russia than to perish on our land.”