‘Heavy fighting’ in east as Kyiv tries fresh Mariupol evacuation

Ukrainian authorities were hoping Monday to evacuate more civilians from the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, as Russia’s offensive in the east of Ukraine continued with “active and heavy” fighting.

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

In coordinated efforts between Ukraine, Russia and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), another evacuation had been scheduled to start first thing on Monday.

“Everything is very fragile, things can fall apart at any given moment so it’s better to wait until the evacuation is over,” he told a press conference with his Danish counterpart in Kyiv.

Over the weekend, “for the first time, there were two days of real ceasefire on this territory,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Sunday.

Russia’s armed forces said 46 civilians had left Azovstal on Saturday, and had “voluntarily” decided to stay in the separatist region of Donetsk.

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

– ‘Active and heavy fighting’ –

Fighting is particularly intense around Izyum, Lyman and Rubizhne, as the Russians prepare their attack on Severodonetsk, the last easterly city still held by Kyiv, Ukraine’s general staff said.

In Lyman, relentless shelling has reduced hamlets around the city to rubble, according to AFP reporters.

“I don’t have a house anymore,” he said.

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

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

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

Kyiv has admitted that Russian forces have captured a string of villages in the Donbas region and has asked Western powers to deliver more heavy weapons to bolster its defences there.

“The Bayraktars are working,” said Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander in chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, referring to Turkish-made military drones.

Western powers have levelled unprecedented sanctions against Russia over the war while delivering money and weapons to Ukraine, including a $33-billion (31-billion-euro) arms and support package announced by US President Joe Biden last week.

EU ministers met Monday to respond to Russia’s decision last week to cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, which had refused Moscow’s demand to pay in rubles.

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


Originally published as ‘Heavy fighting’ in east as Kyiv tries fresh Mariupol evacuation

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