Ukraine Azovstal steel plant evacuation targets injured, medics

  • Captured Azovstal civilians evacuated
  • Britain pledges $1.6 billion more military aid and aid
  • G7 leaders talk to Zelenskiy in display of unity

Kiev, May 8 (Reuters) – Evacuation efforts will focus on getting the injured and medics out of Mariupol’s bombed Azovstal steel plant after all the women, children and elderly trapped inside the plant were brought to safety, Ukraine’s Ukrainian police said. President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian resistance fighters at the factory have vowed not to surrender and Russian troops are trying to declare victory in the protracted battle for the massive factory, in time for the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow, which is commemorated when the Soviet Union triumphed over Nazi Germany in World War Two.

The Soviet-era Azovstal steel mill, the last foothold for Ukrainian troops in the main port city, has become a symbol of resistance to Russia’s attempt to take parts of eastern and southern Ukraine in the 10-week-old war.

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US President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders will video call Zelenskiy Sunday in a show of unity ahead of Victory Day, in which President Vladimir Putin typically inspects a massive military parade in Moscow.

“Putin’s brutal attack is not only causing untold devastation in Ukraine – it also threatens peace and security across Europe,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday in a statement pledging more military aid.

Britain pledged to provide an additional £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion), double its previous spending commitments and claiming the country’s highest rate of spending on conflict since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Putin’s Victory Day speech could provide clues about the future of the war he launched on February 24 with a failed attack on the capital Kiev. Russia’s efforts were plagued by logistical and equipment problems, and many casualties in heavy resistance.

US Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns said Putin was convinced “doubling down” the conflict would improve the outcome for Russia. read more

“He’s in a state of mind where he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,” Burns told a Financial Times event.

Other observers suggest Putin could declare “mission accomplished”. Ukraine’s defense intelligence has said Kremlin officials are reportedly in Mariupol preparing for a Victory Day parade in the destroyed city.

Zelenskiy said in a late-night speech on Saturday that more than 300 civilians had been rescued from the Azovstal factory and that authorities would now focus on evacuating the injured, medics and helping residents elsewhere in Mariupol and surrounding settlements.

Russian-backed separatists have reported that 176 civilians have been evacuated from the factory. It was not clear whether any civilians were still there.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the accounts of either party.

Under heavy bombardment, fighters and civilians are trapped for weeks in deep bunkers and tunnels that crisscross the terrain, with little food, water or medicine. Weeks of Russian bombing have left Mariupol in ruins. The steel factory was largely destroyed.

Moscow calls the war a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of Western-fueled anti-Russian nationalism. Ukraine and the West say Russia has started an unprovoked war.

The World Health Organization said in Kiev on Saturday it had documented 200 attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine, the latest allegations of war crimes committed by Russian troops. Russia has denied attacking civilian targets. read more

Mariupol, which lies between the Crimean peninsula occupied by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian-backed separatists that year, is key to connecting the two Russian-occupied territories and blocking Ukrainian exports.

Ukraine’s General Staff said the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine aims to gain full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – where pro-Russian separatists have declared breakaway republics – and maintain the land corridor between these areas and Crimea.

The speaker of the Russian lower house, Vyacheslav Volodin, accused Washington of coordinating military operations in Ukraine, which he said amounted to direct US involvement in military actions against Russia. read more

US officials have said the United States provided intelligence to Ukraine to help fight the Russian attack, but have denied that the intelligence contains accurate target data.

Washington and European members of NATO’s transatlantic alliance have supplied Kiev with heavy weapons, but say they are not taking part in the fighting.

A senior Russian commander said last month that Russia was planning to take full control of southern Ukraine to improve Russian access to Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova to the west.

Pro-Russian separatists in Moldova said on Saturday that Transnistria has been hit four times by suspected drones near the Ukrainian border. read more

Ukraine has repeatedly denied any blame for the incidents, saying it believes Russia is carrying out the attacks to provoke war. Moscow has also denied the blame. read more

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Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev and Reuters offices; Written by Michael Perry; Editing by William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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