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Dozens leave Mariupol plant as Pelosi slams Russian ‘bullies’

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UN confirmed that a “safe passage operation is ongoing” at Azovstal in coordination between the Red Cross and Russian and Ukrainian forces but declined to give details because of safety concerns

UN confirmed that a “safe passage operation is ongoing” at Azovstal in coordination between the Red Cross and Russian and Ukrainian forces but declined to give details because of safety concerns

Dozens of civilians have left a besieged steel plant in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Russia said on Sunday, as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to support Ukraine against Russian “bullies” after visiting Kyiv.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said a total of 46 civilians had left in two groups on Saturday from the area around the Azovstal plant — the last holdout of Ukrainian forces in the city.

The UN confirmed that a “safe passage operation is ongoing” at Azovstal in coordination between the Red Cross and Russian and Ukrainian forces but declined to give details because of safety concerns.

The development has raised hopes of a long-awaited evacuation from the plant, where Ukrainian fighters say they and hundreds of civilians have been sheltering from relentless Russian bombardment.

Their fate has drawn worldwide condemnation.

Pope Francis on Sunday used his weekly Angelus prayer to renew his appeal for humanitarian corridors from Mariupol, saying that the city had been “bombed and destroyed in a barbaric manner”.

Thousands have been killed and millions displaced by Russia’s invasion, which began on February 24.

Western powers have rushed to send military aid to Ukraine and imposed heavy sanctions on Russia.

“Do not be bullied by bullies,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters at a press conference in Rzeszow in southern Poland after returning from Ukraine.

“If they are making threats, you cannot back down. That’s my view of it. We are here for the fight and you cannot fold to a bully,” she said.

Ms. Pelosi met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Saturday, becoming the most senior U.S. figure to visit since the war began.

“We are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom… Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,” she told him.

Ms. Pelosi also promised to enact the $33-billion (31-billion-euro) arms and support package announced by U.S. President Joe Biden last week.

The conflict is concentrated in the east and south of Ukraine, although there have been Russian missile strikes across the country, mainly targeting infrastructure and supply lines.

Mariupol is an important strategic hub connecting the Russian-held southern and eastern parts of Ukraine.

“On April 30, following the implementation of a ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor, two groups of civilians have left the residential buildings adjacent to the site of the Azovstal steel plant,” the Russian Defence Ministry said on Telegram on Sunday.

One group of 21 people was taken to Bezimenne, a village on the Azov Sea near Mariupol that is controlled by Russian forces, the Ministry said, without specifying what happened to the others.

“All of the civilians were given accommodation, food and necessary medical help,” the Ministry said.

A Ministry video showed a convoy of cars and buses travelling in the dark, marked with a “Z”, the letter used by the Russian forces in the conflict.

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said on Telegram called for “radio silence on the evacuation pending official information”.

On Saturday, the Ukrainian forces guarding the Azovstal site had said that 20 civilians, including children, had left the area and voiced hope that they would be allowed to reach the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is under Ukrainian control.

Russia’s Defence Ministry also on Sunday said it had used high-precision Onyx missiles to strike a hangar at a military aerodrome housing weapons and ammunition from the United States and European countries and destroyed the runway.

Ukrainian authorities had reported the strike on Saturday but said only that it destroyed the runway.

Near Bucha, the town near Kyiv that has become synonymous with allegations of Russian war crimes, Ukrainian police also on Saturday reported finding three bodies shot in the head with their hands tied.

The victims were found in a pit and had been “brutally killed” by Russian soldiers, the police said in a statement.

“The victims’ hands were tied, cloths were covering their eyes and some were gagged. There are traces of torture on the corpses,” the statement said.

Ukrainian prosecutors say they have pinpointed more than 8,000 war crimes carried out by Moscow’s troops and are investigating 10 Russian soldiers for suspected atrocities in Bucha.

Russia has denied any involvement in civilian deaths in Bucha.

Meanwhile, Russia has moved to solidify its grip on areas it controls and from Sunday introduced the Russian ruble in the region of Kherson — initially to be used alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia.

“Beginning May 1, we will move to the ruble zone,” Kirill Stremousov, a civilian and military administrator of Kherson, was cited as saying earlier by Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti.

He said there would be a period of four months in which the hryvnia could be used, but then “we will completely switch to settlements in rubles”.

On the front line in the east, Russian troops have advanced slowly but steadily in some areas — helped by massive use of artillery — but Ukrainian forces have also recaptured some territory in recent days, particularly around the city of Kharkiv.

One of the areas taken back from Russian control was the village of Ruska Lozova, which evacuees said had been occupied for two months.

“It was two months of terrible fear. Nothing else, a terrible and relentless fear,” Natalia, a 28-year-old evacuee from Ruska Lozova, told AFP after reaching Kharkiv.

Kyiv has admitted that Russian forces have captured a string of villages in the Donbas region and has asked Western powers to deliver more heavy weapons to bolster its defences there.

“Everyone understands that we must guard the line here,” lieutenant Yevgen Samoylov of the 81st brigade told AFP as his unit rotated away from the front line near the town of Sviatogirsk.

“We cannot let the enemy move closer, we try to hold it with all our force,” he said.



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