Friday, October 7, 2022

Some evacuated from Mariupol; Pelosi visits Kyiv

The United Nations laboured on Sunday to get civilians out of the bombed-out ruins of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, while US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi revealed she visited Ukraine’s president to show unflinching American support for the country’s defense against Russian aggression.
Russia’s high-stakes offensive in coastal southern Ukraine and the country’s eastern industrial heartland has Ukrainian forces fighting village by village and more civilians fleeing airstrikes and artillery shelling as war draws near their doorsteps. As many as 100,000 people are believed to still be in blockaded Mariupol, including up to 1,000 civilians who were hunkered down with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters beneath a sprawling Soviet-era steel plant that is the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.
Pelosi, a California Democrat who is second in line to succeed the president, is the most senior American lawmaker to travel to Ukraine since Russia invaded Ukraine on Februry 24.
Her Saturday visit came just days after Russia launched rockets at the capital during a visit by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
During a Sunday news conference in the Polish city of Rzeszow, Pelosi said she and other members of a US congressional delegation met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, for three hours and brought him “a message of appreciation from the American people for his leadership.”
Rep. Jason Crow, a US Army veteran and a member of the House intelligence and armed services committees, said he came to Ukraine with three areas of focus: “Weapons, weapons and weapons.”
“We have to make sure the Ukrainians have what they need to win. What we have seen in the last two months is their ferocity, their intense pride, their ability to fight and their ability to win if they have the support to do so,” the Colorado Democrat said.
Russian forces have embarked on a major military operation to seize significant parts of southern and eastern Ukraine following their failure to capture Kyiv. Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov, is a key target because of its strategic location near the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
“All the leaders of the free world know what Russia has done to Mariupol. And Russia will not go unpunished for this,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. He warned that Russia was “gathering additional forces for new attacks against our military in the east of the country.”
Details about the scope of Saturday’s evacuations and the possibility of more to come Sunday 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, were evacuated from areas near the Azovstal steel plant, the last defense holdout in Mariupol.
A top official with the Azov Regiment, the Ukrainian unit defending the steelworks, said Saturday that 20 women and children were evacuated from the plant. Civilians have sheltered in a maze of underground tunnels while the plant has been under siege.
In a video posted on the regiment’s Telegram channel, regiment Deputy Commander Sviatoslav Palamar called for the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian fighters as well as civilians. “We don’t know why they are not taken away and their evacuation to the territory controlled by Ukraine is not being discussed,” he said.
An Associated Press journalist saw women and children arriving in Bezimenne, a village which is under the control of Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, accompanied by UN and Red Cross representatives. The UN has not confirmed that people were able to leave Mariupol on Saturday.
The Mariupol City Council said an evacuation might happen Sunday afternoon. It was not clear whether the effort was related to the UN one.
Elsewhere in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, about 20 older adults and children clutching bags along with their dogs and cats boarded a minivan Saturday in the town of Lyman, where at least half the population has fled Russian shelling, The van, marked with a sign reading “evacuation of children” in Ukrainian, sped off toward the city of Dnipro as explosions were heard in the distance.
“The liberators have come and have freed us from what? Our lives?” said Nina Mihaylenko, a professor of Russian language and literature, referring to the Russian forces.
Undeterred by air raid sirens and warnings to shelter at home, people in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia visited cemeteries Sunday, when Ukrainians observed the Orthodox Christian day of the dead.
“If our dead could rise and see this, they would say, It’s not possible, they’re worse than the Germans,’” Hennadiy Bondarenko, 61, said while marking the day with his family at a picnic table among the graves. “All our dead would join the fighting, including the Cossacks.”
Getting a full picture of the unfolding battle in eastern Ukraine has been difficult because airstrikes and artillery barrages have made it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around.
Also, both Ukraine and Moscow-backed rebels have introduced tight restrictions on reporting from the combat zone.