Ukrainians Plead for Mariupol Rescue, Russian Advance Crawls

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces fought village by village Saturday to hold back a Russian advance through the country’s east, while the United Nations worked to broker a civilian evacuation from the last defensive stronghold in the bombed-out ruins of the port city of Mariupol.

According to Ukrainian officials, 100,000 civilians are still living in the city. Up to 1000 live under a massive Soviet-era steel mill. The plant is the only area of Mariupol that has been occupied not by Russian troops. However, Ukraine did not say how many soldiers are there. Russia estimated the figure at around 2,000.

Russian state media reported that 25 civilians were evacuated from Azovstal’s steelworks on Saturday. However, there wasn’t confirmation from U.N. officials or Ukrainian officials. Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said 19 adults and six children were brought out, but gave no further details.

The Associated Press received video footage and photographs from the plant. The images were shared by two Ukrainian women, who claimed that their husbands fight there. The videos showed men covered in stained bandages. Others had amputated limbs or open wounds.

A skeleton medical staff was treating at least 600 wounded people, said the women, who identified their husbands as members of the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard. They said that some of the wounds had gangrene and were still in good condition.

The men stated that they only eat once a day and drink as much as 1.5 liters (50oz) per day between four people. They also claimed that the supplies in the facility were depleted.

The AP couldn’t independently confirm the time and place of the video. According to the women, it was recorded in the Warren of Passages beneath the Plant.

One shirtless man appeared to be in pain as he described his wounds: two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a dislocated arm that “was hanging on the flesh.”

“I want to tell everyone who sees this: If you will not stop this here, in Ukraine, it will go further, to Europe,” he said.

Other developments

— Lines formed at gas stations in Kyiv, Dnipro and other cities as Ukraine faced fuel shortages because Russia has destroyed its fuel infrastructure and blocked ports, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his Friday address. He said there were “no immediate solutions” to the shortages, but hoped the situation would improve in the next week or two.

— The bodies of three men were found buried in a forest near the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, the head of Kyiv’s regional police force said. Andriy Negotov, the chief of Kyiv’s regional police force, wrote that three men were found dead in a forest near Bucha. Officials from Ukraine claim that the mass murders committed by Russian soldiers in Bucha were carried out by retreating troops.

— Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators talk “almost every day.” However, he told Chinese state news agency Xinhua, “progress has not been easy.”

— Two buses sent to evacuate residents from the eastern town of Popasna were fired upon, and contact with the organizers was lost, Mayor Nikolai Khanatov said: “We know that (the buses) reached the town and then came under fire from an enemy sabotage and reconnaissance group.”

— A Russian rocket attack destroyed the airport runway in Odesa, Ukraine’s third-most populous city and a key Black Sea port, the Ukrainian army said.

It has been extremely difficult to get a complete picture of the ongoing battle in Eastern Ukraine because it is dangerous for journalists to travel around due to airstrikes, artillery fires and other threats. Reporting from the conflict zone has been restricted by both the Russian-backed rebels and Ukraine.

But Western military analysts suggested that Moscow’s offensive in the Donbas region, which includes Mariupol, was going much slower than planned. So far, Russia’s troops and the separatists appeared to have made only minor gains in the month since Moscow said it would focus its military strength in the east.

Numerically, Russia’s military manpower vastly exceeds Ukraine’s. In the days before the war began, Western intelligence estimated Russia had positioned near the border as many as 190,000 troops; Ukraine’s standing military totals about 200,000, spread throughout the country.

Yet, in part because of the tenacity of the Ukrainian resistance, the U.S. believes the Russians are “at least several days behind where they wanted to be” as they try to encircle Ukrainian troops in the east, said a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the American military’s assessment.

With plenty of firepower still in reserve, Russia’s offensive still could intensify and overrun the Ukrainians. The Russian army is home to an estimated 990,000 personnel on active duty. Russia’s navy and air forces are also larger.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance has flowed into Ukraine since the war began, but Russia’s vast armories mean Ukraine’s needs are nearly inexhaustible.

Officials from Mariupol have spoken out about the dire need for food, water, and medicines. U.N. humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu said the world organization was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and Kyiv, but he could not provide details of the ongoing evacuation effort “because of the complexity and fluidity of the operation.”

“There is, right now, ongoing, high-level engagements with all the governments, Russia and Ukraine, to make sure that you can save civilians and support the evacuation of civilians from the plant,” Abreu told AP. He declined to confirm a video that was posted online and purportedly shows U.N.-marked cars in Mariupol.

Ukraine blames Russian shelling for the inability to evacuate many previous times.

The world is stunned at the intensity of the fighting. John Kirby, the Pentagon Press Secretary in the United States of America, became emotional as he spoke about the Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

“It’s hard to look at what he’s doing in Ukraine, what his forces are doing in Ukraine, and think that any ethical, moral individual could justify that,” Kirby, a retired rear admiral, told reporters. “It’s difficult to look at some of the images and imagine that any well-thinking, serious, mature leader would do that. So, I can’t talk to his psychology. But I think we can all speak to his depravity.”

A vast network of underground tunnels and bunkers provides safety for those working at the Mariupol steel mill. But the situation has grown more dire after the Russians dropped “bunker busters” and other bombs on the plant, the mayor said Friday.

Women who claimed their husbands are at the Azov regiment plant said that they fear soldiers would be tortured or killed if left behind.

The Azov regiment is rooted in the Azov Battalion. It was founded in 2014 by far right activists during the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia has referred to the regiment’s past while attempting to justify the invasion.


This report was contributed by Jon Gambrell, Yuras Karmanau and Mstyslav Chernov, Associated Press journalists in Lviv and Yesica Fisch, in Sloviansk and Washington. Trisha Thompson and Associated Press staff from around the globe also participated.


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