May 20, 2022

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Civilians evacuated from Ukraine's Mariupol, Russia renewed bombing

Civilians evacuated from Ukraine’s Mariupol, Russia renewed bombing

  • Civilians leave Mariupol after weeks of siege
  • Russia’s goal does not include “regime change” – Lavrov
  • Moscow escalates its offensive in southern and eastern Donbass
  • EU ministers to discuss Russian energy supplies

Kyiv (Reuters) – Humanitarian organizations evacuated more civilians from the devastated Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Monday, but hundreds of people remained trapped in Azovstal steel plants, the last bastion of resistance to a Russian blockade.

The first group of evacuees was due to arrive in a Ukraine-controlled town northwest of Mariupol on Monday. But a city official said Russian forces resumed bombing the steelworks on Sunday as soon as the buses left the factory.

People still stuck there running out of water, food and medicine as Russian forces cordoned them off at the industrial complex, whose network of bunkers and tunnels has provided shelter from weeks of Russian bombing.

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“The situation has become a sign of a real humanitarian catastrophe,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshuk said.

A regional governor said intense Russian bombing also hit towns in eastern Ukraine on Monday, causing heavy damage.

Internationally, EU energy ministers were due to hold emergency talks on Moscow’s demand that European buyers pay for Russian gas in rubles or face cuts to their supplies.

While the European Union imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, the issue of Russian energy supplies posed a dilemma that threatened to split the united front.

The Russian army is now focused on crushing the resistance in southern and eastern Ukraine after failing to capture Kyiv in the first weeks of the war, now in its third month.

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Its attacks have devastated cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee the country. Mariupol, located on the Sea of ​​Azov, has become a symbol of the brutality of war and the suffering of ordinary people.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces now control nearly all of the city, linking Russian-controlled lands to the west and east.

About 100 civilians evacuated from Azovstal steel plants were due to arrive in the Ukraine-controlled city of Zaporizhia, 230 kilometers northwest of Mariupol, on Monday.

“For the first time, we had a two-day ceasefire in this region, and we managed to eliminate more than 100 civilians – women and children,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a nightly video address.

Video footage from inside the steel mills showed members of the Azov regiment helping civilians from the wreckage and getting to a bus.

But hundreds are still trapped inside. An elderly evacuee with young children said the survivors ran out of food.

“Kids have always wanted to eat,” she said. “You know, adults can wait.”

Russia said last week that it had decided not to storm the steel mills and would instead blockade them. But the intermittent bombing continued.

“Yesterday, as soon as the buses left Azovstal with the evacuees, a new bombardment immediately began,” Petro Andryushenko, assistant mayor of Mariupol, told Ukrainian television.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was taking part in the evacuation, along with UN, Ukrainian and Russian officials.

More than 50 civilians arrived at a temporary shelter in a Russian-controlled area on Sunday after fleeing Mariupol, a Reuters photographer said. Read more

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Moscow describes its invasion as a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of the anti-Russian nationalism stoked by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia has launched an unjustified war of aggression that threatens to turn into a much broader conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that Moscow only wanted to guarantee the security of pro-Russian Ukrainians in the east and did not demand Zelensky’s surrender as a condition of peace.

“Our goal does not include regime change in Ukraine,” Lavrov said in an interview posted on his ministry’s website.

On Monday, the Ukrainian military said that Russian forces are trying to take control of the eastern town of Robyzhny and prepare for an attack on Severodonetsk.

Luhansk region governor Serhi Gaidai said three people had been killed by the bombing in the past 24 hours.

The fiercest clashes were taking place around Bubasna, west of the Russian-controlled regional capital. He said the bombing was so violent that they couldn’t even collect the bodies.

“I don’t even want to talk about what is happening with the people who live in Popasna, Rubezny and Novotoshkivsky at the moment. These cities simply do not exist anymore. They have completely destroyed them.”

Moscow is pressing for full control of the Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists had already controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces prior to the invasion.

Russia’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said two explosions occurred on Monday in the southern Belgorod region bordering Ukraine. It was not clear what caused the blasts, but the Kremlin accused Ukraine of carrying out cross-border attacks. Gladkov said there were no injuries.

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In Brussels, EU energy ministers were due to meet in an attempt to find a way out of the dilemma posed by Russia’s energy supply, which accounts for 40% of EU gas and 26% of its oil imports.

Germany and other countries have so far resisted calls for an abrupt halt to Russian fuel imports for fear of economic damage, while Moscow is asking European buyers to pay for Russian gas in rubles or face disruptions to their supplies.

Russia halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland last week after they refused to meet its demands for actual payment in rubles.

Diplomats said the European Union is on track to impose a ban on Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

But German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Monday that some countries were not yet ready to impose a ban on Russian oil. He said that Germany did not want to cause an economic disaster.

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Additional reporting by Hamouda Hassan and Jorge Silva in Dopropylya, Ukraine, and Natalia Zenets in Kyiv; Additional coverage by Reuters journalists. Written by Lincoln Fest and Angus Maxwan; Editing by Stephen Coates and Nick McPhee

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.