Ukrainian authorities braced for an expected escalation in Russian attacks ahead of the VE Day holiday on May 9, while officials on both sides said the civilian evacuation of a beleaguered steel mill in Mariupol was complete, although the fate of the remaining fighters there is unclear. .
Ukrainian officials said on May 7 that all women, children and the elderly had been evacuated from the massive Azovstal steelworks that had been under attack for weeks by Russian forces amid the ruins of the port city.
“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 in a statement on social media.
“This part of Mariupol’s humanitarian mission is over,” she added without giving further details.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy later said a “second stage” of the evacuation would now take place, with the evacuation of the injured and medical personnel.
He said work would continue on May 8 to secure all humanitarian corridors to allow those in and around town who wished to leave to exit. He added that Kyiv was trying to get the last fighters out of the steel mill, but it “was extremely difficult”.
Fears are growing that a final, bloody showdown between Ukrainian fighters and Russian troops could erupt if the defenders are not allowed to be evacuated from the factory.
The evacuation of the Azovstal steel plant has intensified over the past two days, even as Russia has continued to batter the facility and the strategic city, which now lies mostly in ruins.
Russia is seeking to complete its takeover of the region and build a land bridge between Crimea – which it illegally annexed in 2014 – and territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Mariupol has suffered the worst fighting in Ukraine since Russian troops were forced to retreat around kyiv and other northern towns.
Prior to the weekend, around 200 civilians were hiding in the massive steelworks along with around 2,000 Ukrainian defenders.
The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross are desperately trying to organize evacuations from the site.
Russian officials also later released a statement saying the civilian evacuation of the steel mill was complete.
The fate of the fighters remains uncertain.
Russia, meanwhile, claimed that its Iskander missiles had destroyed a cache of Ukrainian weapons that had been supplied by the United States and Europe and that high-precision missiles had destroyed Ukrainian planes at airfields in Artsyz, Odessa and Voznesensk regions.
Oleskiy Arestovych, one of Zelenskiy’s top advisers, claimed on May 7 that Ukraine had made advances on the battlefield in the east, just two days before Russia held ceremonies to mark the Victory Day, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s May 9 speech will be closely watched to see if he announces a general mobilization or other major strategic shift, aimed at turning the tide of the war, which is now in its 73rd day.
The Council of Europe’s top human rights representative deplored Moscow’s actions during its invasion, saying every Ukrainian who suffered human rights abuses at the hands of Russia deserves justice.
“Each of them deserves justice and must not be forgotten,” Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement after a four-day visit to Kyiv, adding that the scale of human rights violations was “amazing”.
In the first weeks after the February 24 invasion, Russian forces were thwarted in their attempts to seize kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, suffering heavy losses in personnel and equipment. The commanders then withdrew the units from areas near kyiv and repositioned them in Donbass.
Russia’s last official tally of its military dead was 1,351. Western officials, however, say the toll is at least 15,000, and Ukrainian officials say the tally is over 20,000. Zelenskiy said the last month that between 2,500 and 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed, although this figure is considered an undercount.
The Ukrainian General Staff, meanwhile, said in its daily assessment that Russian activity was relatively calm overnight, limited to military reconnaissance and artillery fire.
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Near Izyum, where there was significant back-and-forth, drones were repeatedly detected over defense positions, according to the report. Kharkiv was also hit by artillery.
Kherson, which is located in northern Crimea, well outside Donbass, has been contested for weeks, despite Russian forces claiming control of the region’s main city and a senior Russian politician surrendering. in the city of Kherson on May 6.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on May 6 that its forces were continuing to advance towards positions in the Donbass and had destroyed an ammunition depot in Kramatorsk and shot down two Ukrainian warplanes.
On May 7, the ministry said its forces struck 18 Ukrainian military installations overnight, including three ammunition depots near the port city of Odessa. He also said that the Russian forces destroyed a stockpile of military equipment from the United States and European countries near a station in the Kharkiv region.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, quoted by Russian media, said that “a high concentration of weapons and combat equipment delivered by the United States and Western countries, as well as the military personnel of the 58th Mechanized Infantry Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, were eliminated”. with operational and tactical missile systems Iskander” near railway stations in the Kharkiv region.
It was unclear exactly what the weapon was, or when it might have been delivered, and the claims could not be independently confirmed.
Ukrainian military officials confirmed on May 7 that at least four Russian cruise missiles had been fired at the Odessa region and the city’s main airport. Local officials said a curfew would be in place in the area from 10 p.m. May 8 to 5 a.m. May 9.
Ukraine’s successes against Russian forces are due in large part to major arms supplies from the United States and Europe – armaments that increasingly include offensive armaments like heavy artillery, howitzers and tanks.
Russia has repeatedly warned NATO that its arms supply convoys could be targeted, but has so far taken no steps to do so.
Russian forces had closed in on the last contingent of Ukrainian troops who had clung to the vast tunnels and bunkers of the Azovstal steelworks in the port city of Mariupol.
Ukrainian officials said on May 6 that several dozen civilians had been evacuated from Azovstal, while at least 50 others were believed to have left early on May 7 before Vereshchuk’s announcement that all women, children and the elderly had left the site.
Separately, the Ukrainian military said on May 7 that it had destroyed a Russian landing ship near Snake Island in the Black Sea, hitting it with an armed drone. There was no immediate comment from Russia.
In mid-April, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva, sank near Snake Island after being hit by what was believed to be a Ukrainian missile. Russia denies a missile strike, saying only that a fire on board sank the ship.
For the first time since the invasion, the UN Security Council approved a brief resolution expressing its “deep concern” over the situation in Ukraine.
However, the text, which was adopted on May 6 with the vote of Russia, did not mention a “war”, a “conflict” or an “invasion” – as many members of the Council call the military action of the Russia – or a “special military operation”. as Moscow calls it.
“The Security Council expresses its deep concern regarding the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine,” it read.