Ukraine’s last soldiers in the port city of Mariupol face a brutal final showdown on Sunday with beleaguered Russian troops hoping to win a crucial victory ahead of the country’s Victory Day.
President Volodymyr Zelensky will also talk via videoconference with G7 leaders to discuss the situation in his country, which fears a renewed intensity of Moscow’s offensive following the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant.
The complex – the last part of the Ukrainian resistance in the devastated port city – has acquired symbolic value during the war, as hundreds of civilians and soldiers entrenched themselves in the vast underground.
Zelensky said hundreds of people had been removed from the factory on Saturday and preparations for a new phase of evacuation of the injured and medics were underway.
“More than 300 people were rescued – women and children,” he said.
Citizens who escaped have described passing through Russian “filtration” sites where several evacuees told AFP they were being questioned, searched, fingerprinted and their phones and documents checked.
“They asked us if we wanted to go to Russia or stay in (the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine) or stay and rebuild the city of Mariupol,” said Azovstal evacuee Natalia, who spoke on the condition that her full name was not given. would be called. published.
‘But how can I rebuild it? How can I get back there if the city of Mariupol no longer exists?’
Ukraine’s far-right Azov battalion, which leads defenses at the steel plant, said one of its fighters was killed and six injured when Russian troops opened fire during an earlier attempt to evacuate people by car.
Earlier, the Kiev Ministry of Defense said Russian forces had resumed their attack on the site, despite rumors of a ceasefire to allow trapped civilians to flee.
By taking full control of Mariupol, Moscow could create a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists in the east.
– Doubling –
Russian forces may be trying to hand President Vladimir Putin that victory ahead of Victory Day on Monday, when the country celebrates Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945.
With the date fast approaching, Ukrainian officials fear intensified rocket and artillery bombardments and renewed attacks as Moscow looks for symbolic victories.
At home, Russia will celebrate the holiday in grand style, with eight MiG-29 fighter jets flying over Moscow’s Red Square, forming the letter “Z” – the sign of the Russian military strike in Ukraine.
Seventy-seven aircraft will perform a fly-past, including the rarely seen Il-80 Doomsday plane — built to withstand a nuclear attack.
But despite apocalyptic nuclear threats from Russian state media, the CIA said on Saturday it saw no indication that Moscow was preparing to use tactical nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict.
“As an intelligence community, we currently see no practical evidence of Russian planning for the deployment or even possible use of tactical nuclear weapons,” CIA Director Bill Burns said at a conference.
Burns also warned that Putin believed he could not afford a defeat in Ukraine and could “double down” on the offensive.
The Russian campaign has met strong opposition — and has prompted Kiev’s western allies to comprehensively punish the Russian economy and Putin’s inner circle.
And international efforts to pressure the Russian leader continue, with G7 leaders, including US President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s Zelensky, set to videoconfer Western support for Kiev on Sunday.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will host the call and Zelensky will “participate and report on the current situation,” government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said.
Further sanctions or at least a tightening of the massive array of economic penalties already imposed on Russia are expected to be discussed.
Ambassadors from EU member states will also meet in Brussels on Sunday to discuss their sixth round of economic sanctions against Moscow, which this time should include a phased ban on Russian oil imports.
Far from diplomatic wrangling, fighting continues in war-torn Ukraine.
The Ukrainian rescue service said a missile hit a technical school in Kostiantynivka, in the eastern region of Donetsk, killing at least two people.
Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported “mass bombing” along the front line.
Four civilians were killed in Donetsk, two in Bakhmut and two in Kostiantynivka, and another nine people were injured, he added.
Zelensky said on Saturday that a Russian missile hit a museum in the Kharkiv region, announcing that “the Russian army has already destroyed or damaged nearly 200 cultural heritage sites”.
In Lugansk, Ukrainian officials on Friday said Russian forces had nearly surrounded Severodonetsk – the easternmost city still controlled by Kiev – and were trying to storm it.
Kherson in the south is still the only major city that Russia has captured since the beginning of the war.
Ukrainian forces have launched a counter-offensive in response.
Kiev’s defense ministry said it had destroyed another Russian ship, a Serna-class landing craft, in the Black Sea.
“The traditional parade of the Russian Black Sea fleet on May 9 this year will be held near Snake Island – at the bottom of the sea,” the ministry added. Russia did not immediately confirm the incident.
According to the defense ministry, Russian forces were forced to demolish three road bridges at Tsyrkuny and Ruski Tyshky outside Kharkov in an attempt to slow down Ukraine’s advance.
And as the war approaches its third month, British intelligence said Ukrainian forces equipped with high-quality equipment by Western allies have been able to destroy some of Russia’s most advanced weapons.
“The conflict in Ukraine is taking a heavy toll on some of Russia’s most capable units and most advanced capabilities,” Britain’s defense intelligence agency said.
“It will take a lot of time and expense for Russia to reconstruct its armed forces after this conflict,” it said, adding that sanctions on advanced components would make it more difficult for Russia to rearm.
(This story was not edited by DailyExpertNews staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)