ZAPORIZHZHIA, UKRAINE – The Red Cross is renewing efforts to evacuate civilians in a convoy from the besieged port of Mariupol on Saturday as Russian forces appear to be regrouping for fresh attacks in the southeast. Ukraine.
Besieged since the early days of Russia’s invasion five weeks ago, Mariupol has become Moscow’s primary target in Ukraine’s southeastern Donbas region. Tens of thousands of civilians were trapped there with scant food and water.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Friday sent a group to lead a convoy of 54 Ukrainian buses and other private vehicles out of the city, but they refused, saying they could not continue. customary.
“They will attempt again on Saturday to facilitate the safe passage of civilians,” the ICRC said in a statement Friday. An earlier evacuation attempt by the Red Cross in early March failed.
Russia and Ukraine have agreed to establish different humanitarian corridors during the war to allow the evacuation of civilians from cities and blame each other when evacuations fail.
Those who managed to get out of Mariupol and through Russian routes to the city of Zaporizhzhia describe their journey as an ordeal, in which Russian soldiers repeatedly stopped them to check for a Russian presence. Ukrainian fighters.
Dmytro Kartavov, a 32-year-old builder, said: “They undress the men and look for tattoos.
“I work, I fix, naturally my knees – these are active knees. They say – (you) climb trenches, dig, and the like.”
Another group said they were stopped about 17 times at Russian checkpoints as they made their way out of Mariupol.
‘HEAD FIGHT AHEAD’
The war left thousands dead, uprooted a quarter of Ukraine’s population, and devastated several cities. The United Nations says more than 4.1 million people have left Ukraine.
After failing to capture a major Ukrainian city since launching its invasion on February 24, Russia says it has now shifted its focus to the southeast, which has backed separatists since then. since 2014.
“Let us not be under illusion – there are still heavy battles in the south, for Mariupol, for the east of Ukraine,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych on Saturday.
In a video speech early in the morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops had advanced towards Donbas and the northeastern city of Kharkiv was heavily bombarded.
Russia has described the troop withdrawal near Kyiv as a gesture of goodwill in the peace talks. Ukraine and its allies say Russian forces were forced to regroup after suffering heavy losses.
The governor of Ukraine’s south-central Dnipro region, Valentyn Reznichenko, said a Russian missile hit a railway line in the region on Saturday, severely damaging the tracks and suspending train traffic in the area. area. He did not say whether there were any casualties.
Maksim Levin, a Ukrainian photographer and videographer working for a Ukrainian news website and a longtime contributor to Reuters, was killed while covering the war.
The news website LB.ua where he works said his body was found in a village north of Kyiv on April 1.
Russia denies targeting civilians in what President Vladimir Putin called a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “demilitarizing” Ukraine.
Ukraine calls it a gratuitous war of aggression and Western countries have imposed sweeping sanctions in an attempt to squeeze Russia’s economy.
Pope Francis comes the closest he has yet to criticize Vladimir Putin for the invasion. He did not name the Russian president but said a “potential person” was provoking conflicts for nationalist interests.
“Again, some people with potential, sadly caught up in outdated claims of nationalist interests, are inciting and fueling conflict, while ordinary people feel the need to building a future that can be shared or not at all,” he said during a visit to Malta.
SALE WINE IN KYIV
In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, people started buying alcohol again after Mayor Vitali Klitschko eased a month-long ban.
Olena, a psychologist who is buying beer in the supermarket, says that doesn’t mean people have forgotten about the war.
“We’re just supporting our country in this way. No one is going to get better if we’re bored, doing nothing,” she said. “I’m glad that in two weeks I went back thinking ‘I want a beer,'” she says with a smile.
Elsewhere, there is no respite from conflict.
In the early hours of Saturday, Russian missiles hit the cities of Poltava and Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, Dmitry Lunin, head of the Poltava region, wrote in an online post.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that high-precision air-launched missiles disabled military airfields in Poltava and Dnipro.
Before dawn, as sirens sounded throughout Ukraine, the Ukrainian military reported that Russia had struck the cities of Severodonetsk and Rubizhne in the Luhansk region.
Pro-Russian separatists declared breakaway republics in both Luhansk and Donetsk that Moscow recognized shortly before the invasion.
Ukraine’s military also said defensive forces repelled multiple attacks in both provinces on Friday and that Russian units in Luhansk lost 800 troops in the past week alone.
Reuters was unable to verify those claims.
British military intelligence said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces continued to advance against Russia’s withdrawal near Kyiv and that Russian troops had abandoned Hostomel airport on the northwestern outskirts of the capital, where the traffic had occurred. painting since day one.
The British Daily Review also said Ukrainian forces had secured a key corridor east of Kharkiv after fierce fighting.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in the Mukachevo, Ukraine office, Alessandra Prentice and Reuters; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Madeline Chambers and Estelle Shirbon; Editing by William Mallard, Kevin Liffey and Frances Kerry)