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United Nations races to rescue civilians from Mariupol plant – Press Telegram

By ELENA BECATOROS and JON GABRELL

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) – The United Nations rushed on Friday to rescue more civilians from the tunnels under a besieged steel plant in Mariupol and the city in general, although fighters locked in the large complex fought their last battle to prevent a total takeover of Moscow. of the strategic port.

The struggle for the last Ukrainian stronghold in a ruined city by the Russian attack seemed increasingly desperate amid growing speculation that President Vladimir Putin wants to end the battle for Mariupol in order to present a victory to the Russian people in time for World Day. Monday’s victory. , the largest patriotic holiday on the Russian calendar.

According to the latest estimate from Russia, some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are locked in the vast maze of tunnels and bunkers under the Azovstal steel mill, and have repeatedly refused to surrender. Ukraine said a few hundred civilians were also trapped there, and fears for its safety have increased as the battle has become fiercer in recent days.

“Our colleagues are currently on the ground,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on the latest evacuation effort. “We are in an extremely delicate phase of this operation, working in close coordination with both the Ukrainian and Russian authorities.”

He declined to share details “for the sake of the safety of those we try to get out of and, of course, of our own staff, who are there.”

Kateryna Prokopenko, whose husband, Denys Prokopenko, commands Azov Regiment troops inside the plant, made a desperate request to save the fighters. She said they would be willing to go to a third country to wait for the war, but would never surrender to Russia because that would mean “leaks, imprisonment, torture and death.”

If nothing is done to save her husband and her husbands, “they will remain without surrender until the end,” she told The Associated Press on Friday as she and relatives of some members of the regiment drove from Italy to Poland.

It could take days to find out whether the latest UN effort to evacuate civilians has been successful, as people fleeing Mariupol usually have to go through disputed areas and many checkpoints before reaching relative security in the controlled city of Zaporizhzhia. through Ukraine, about 230 kilometers (140 miles). to the northwest.

Two previous evacuations negotiated by the UN and the Red Cross rescued about 500 people from the steel industry and other places in Mariupol. Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, also said on Friday that 500 civilians had been rescued, but it was unclear whether that included the previous rescue figure.

Some of the plant’s evacuees spoke with the AP about the horrors of being surrounded by death in the moldy, underground bunker with little food and water, poor medical care, and diminished hope. Some said they felt guilty for leaving others behind.

“People literally rotted like our jackets,” said 31-year-old Serhii Kuzmenko, who fled with his wife, 8-year-old daughter and four other people from his bunker, where another 30 were left. “They need a lot of our help. “We have to get them out.”

Fighters defending the plant told Telegram on Friday that Russian troops had fired at an evacuation vehicle on the plant’s grounds. They said the car was heading for civilians when it was hit by the bombings, and one soldier was killed and six were injured.

Moscow did not immediately recognize the new fight there on Friday.

Russia has taken control of Mariupol, apart from the steel industry, after bombing it for two months. Before Victory Day, which marks the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, municipal workers and volunteers cleaned up what was left of the city, which had a population of more than 400,000 before the war, but where perhaps 100,000 civilians remain without food. , water, electricity or heat. . Excavators collected debris and people swept the streets with a backdrop of dumped buildings, workers repaired a model of a warship, and Russian flags were hoisted on light poles.

The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which would seize Ukraine in 2014, and free troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region than the Kremlin. he says that is now his main goal. Its capture also has a symbolic value as the city has been the scene of some of the worst suffering of the war and a surprisingly fierce resistance.

Asked if Russia would soon take full control of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “Mariupol will never fall. I’m not talking about heroism or anything.”

“It’s already devastated,” he said at a meeting at the Chatham House think tank in London. He also said he was still open to negotiations with Russia, but reiterated that Moscow should withdraw its forces.

As they attacked the plant, Russian forces fought to make significant strides elsewhere, 10 weeks after a devastating war that killed thousands, forced millions to flee the country and devastated large swathes of cities.

Ukrainian officials have warned residents to be vigilant and heed warnings of airstrikes, saying the risk of mass bombings had increased with the contribution of Victory Day. Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko has said authorities will step up patrols on the streets of the capital.

The Ukrainian army chief of staff said on Friday that his forces had repelled 11 attacks on the Donbas and destroyed tanks and armored vehicles, further thwarting Putin’s ambitions following his failed attempt to seize Kiev. Russia did not give immediate recognition of those losses.

The British Defense Ministry said Russia may be struggling to carry out its plan in the Donbas, in part because it is stuck at the Mariupol plant. The fighting at the plant “ran for staff, equipment and ammunition costs for Russia,” he said.

The Ukrainian army also said it had advanced into the northeastern region of Kharkiv, recapturing five villages and part of a sixth.

In other developments:

– A brigade of the Ukrainian army said that it used a plane in the crew “suicide” American Switchblade against Russian forces in what was probably the first recorded use in Ukraine of such a weapon in combat.

– The Ukrainian governor of the eastern region of Lugansk said that residents of the town of Kreminna were being terrorized by Russian troops trying to cross the Seversky Donets River. Serhiy Haidai accused Russian troops of checking phones and “forcibly disappearing Ukrainian patriots.” His statements could not be verified immediately.

– Haidia also said that more than 15,000 people remain in Severodonetsk, a city in the Lugansk region that is seen as a key target of Russia. He said three people were evacuated from Severodonetsk on Friday and that he believes most residents want to stay even though “whole blocks of houses are on fire.”

– The small village of Nekhoteevk, in the Belgorod region of southern Russia, bordering Ukraine, was being evacuated on Friday due to bombing of Ukrainian territory, according to regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov. His claims could not be immediately verified.

– Russian state agencies have reported that two self-proclaimed separatist republics in the industrial east of Ukraine – the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic – have appointed special ambassadors to Moscow. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nykolenko said the ambassadors were “traitors” and would likely be charged with high treason.

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An earlier version of this story was corrected to show that it was unclear if a new group of civilians had been evacuated from the plant. ___

Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Trisha Thomas in Rome, Yesica Fisch in Zaporizhzhia, Inna Varenytsia and David Keyton in Kiev, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this. report.

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Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

United Nations races to rescue civilians from Mariupol plant – Press Telegram Source link United Nations races to rescue civilians from Mariupol plant – Press Telegram

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