Ukraine Evacuates Civilians From Steel Mill

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Russian forces fired cruise missiles at the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa on Saturday and bombarded a besieged steel mill in Mariupol, hoping to complete their conquest of the port in time for Victory Day celebrations. Ukraine declared that the mill had been surrendered to Russia, with all its key war objectives.

In a sign of the unexpectedly effective defense that has sustained the fighting into its 11th week, Ukraine’s military flattened Russian positions on a Black Sea island that was captured in the war’s first days and has become a symbol of resistance. Western military analysts also said a Ukrainian counteroffensive was advancing around the nation’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, even as it remained a key target of Russian shelling.

Since World War II, the biggest European conflict has evolved into a grueling war of attrition. Millions have fled their homes in order to escape this terrible conflict. Large swathes of cities were also destroyed. Ukrainian leaders warned that attacks would only increase in the lead-up to Russia’s Monday holiday commemorating Nazi Germany’s defeat 77 years ago, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged people to heed air raid warnings.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that Zelenskyy and his people “embody the spirit of those who prevailed during the Second World War.” He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying “to twist history to attempt to justify his unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine.”

“As war again rages in Europe, we must increase our resolve to resist those who now seek to manipulate historical memory in order to advance their own ambitions,” Blinken said in a statement as the United States and United Kingdom marked the Allied victory in Europe.

In eastern Ukraine, the most recent fighting has taken place. There are two main sides involved in an intense battle for territory. Moscow’s offensive there has focused on the industrial Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014 and occupy some areas.

Moscow is also trying to invade southern Ukraine, attempting to isolate the country and link its territory with Transnistria in Transnistria. This region was once home to Russian troops. It has not been able to accomplish these objectives.

Six Russian cruise missiles were fired by aircraft from Odesa on Saturday. Authorities have placed a curfew until Tuesday morning. Social media posts showed dense black smoke rising above the city, while sirens hollered.

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed Ukraine targeting Russian-held Snake Island in a bid to impede Russia’s efforts to control the Black Sea. An image taken early Saturday by Planet Labs PBC showed that most of the island’s buildings had been destroyed by Ukrainian drone attacks, as well as what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft against the island’s northern beach.

This image is based on a Ukrainian military footage that shows a drone attacking a Russian ship and engulfing the vessel in flames. Snake Island lies about 35km (20 miles) offshore. This island was in an incident that occurred early in war when Ukrainian border officers stationed there defied Russian orders and used colorful language to resist surrender.

The Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol was a last stand against the Russian invasion of this strategically vital city. This would have given Moscow an access point to the Crimea Peninsula that it had annexed by Ukraine after a 2014 invasion.

Planet Labs PBC took satellite photos Friday showing the destruction at the Azovstal seaside mill. This was the only pocket of Ukrainian resistance left in the city. Many fighters may be hiding under the roofs of buildings that had large holes in their roofs.

The evacuation of civilians was completed by rescuers on Saturday, after weeks of Russian shelling.

“The president’s order has been carried out: All women, children and the elderly have been evacuated from Azovstal,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, without elaborating. “This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation has been completed.”

Tass, the Russian news agency reported Saturday that 50 civilians were evacuated. This was a day after another similar evacuation. This latest group of evacuees follows approximately 500 others, who were permitted to evacuate the plant and other areas of the city over the last few days.

The situation at the plant has drawn the world’s attention, with the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross desperately trying to organize evacuations.

Fighters from the inside have described in recent days bringing out small numbers of civilians that had been hiding for several weeks. They shared via social media their belief that the Russians and they have both used white flags to end fighting so as to expel civilians.

Russian forces are waging a war on the mill using artillery, mortars and trucks-mounted rocket systems. They also bombard the area with aerial bombing, sea shelling, and have made evacuation difficult.

Three Ukrainian fighters were killed and six more were wounded during Friday’s evacuation attempt. Capt. Sviatoslav Palmar, deputy commander of Azov Regiment said that his troops waved white flags, and that Russian forces fired an anti-tank gun at him.

There is still uncertainty about what will happen with the Azovstal estimated 2000 fighters. This includes those currently in battle and those that are believed to have sustained injuries. Recently, the Ukrainian government sought international help to provide safe passage. Fighters have repeatedly said they will not surrender.

Zelenskyy said early Saturday that “influential states” were involved in efforts to rescue the soldiers. He did not mention any by name, but added, “We are also working on diplomatic options.”

According to Ukrainian officials, Russian troops have searched the plant and reached its tunnel network.

However, they failed to realize significant gains in other parts of the country.

Kharkiv was Ukraine’s first Soviet capital and its population prewar had been approximately 1.4 million. It remained an important target for Russian bombardment in the northeast. However, Western military experts said that Ukrainian forces had made progress in the area’s security. According to the Ukrainian army, it had retaken control of 5 villages and a part of 6 others in the region.

A Washington-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, said in its most recent assessment that Ukraine may be able to push Russian forces “out of artillery range of Kharkiv in the coming days,” providing a respite for the city and an opportunity to build the defenders’ momentum “into a successful, broader counteroffensive.”

A Russian missile also struck a Kharkiv museum that was dedicated to Gregory Skovoroda’s life and work, according to local authorities. Facebook photos showed that the structure was in flames.

Zelenskyy said early Saturday that the “extraordinary strength of the Ukrainian position” lies in all the countries of the free worldunderstanding what is at stake in the ruinous war.

“We are defending ourselves against an onslaught of tyranny that wants to destroy everything that freedom gives to people and states,” he said. “And such a struggle, for freedom and against tyranny, is fully comprehensible for any society, in any corner of the globe.”

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