Mariupol evacuation ‘foiled’ by Russian forces, official says, as death toll rises

A Ukrainian attempt to evacuate civilians from the shattered city of Mariupol, where many remain trapped, was “thwarted” by Russian forces on Saturday, a city official said.

“The evacuation was foiled,” Mariupol city official Petro Andryushchenko said on Telegram, adding that around 200 residents had gathered at the evacuation rally point announced by kyiv, but Russian forces “dispersed” them. “.

He claimed others were told to board buses heading to Dukuchayevsk, some 50 miles to the north, which is controlled by Russia.

“People had no right to get off the bus,” he said. Russian forces blamed “shots fired by (Ukrainian) nationalists at the evacuation point” for changing fate, he added.

“Once again, the Russians have interrupted an evacuation,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk had earlier announced that Ukraine would make a new attempt on Saturday to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and warned that Russian forces may try to organize an evacuation route parallel to Russia.

A view shows graves of civilians in Mariupol
A view shows the graves of civilians killed during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 19, 2022.

ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/REUTERS


The attempted evacuation came a day after a senior russian military officer said “The second phase of the special operation” had begun, as Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine, with the aim of controlling a large strategic part of Ukrainian territory.

“One of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over Donbas and southern Ukraine,” Major General Rustam Minnekaev said on Friday.

The announcement marked much broader war goals than Moscow previously declared.

Russian forces, which withdrew from the outskirts of kyiv and northern Ukraine after being thwarted in their attempts to take the capital, already occupy much of the eastern Donbas region and the south.

Minnekaev said his focus now was “providing a land corridor to Crimea,” which Russia annexed in 2014, and to a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, Transnistria, where the general claimed Russian-speakers were “being oppressed.”

The Moldovan government has been shaken by the Russian attack on its neighbor, and Moldovans fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin could move further west.

Moldova has accepted hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the war broke out on February 24. Her government condemned Russia’s war and submitted an offer to join the European Union along with Georgia and Ukraine. It also seeks EU support to handle the influx of refugees and calls on the bloc to step up support to the country.

Ukrainian authorities have vowed to continue fighting and expel Russian troops from their land, but have also sought an Easter break.

“Unfortunately, Russia has rejected the proposal to establish an Easter truce,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said earlier this week.

In his regular Friday night speech, Zelenskyy said the Russian general’s comments were a clear articulation of Moscow’s goals.

“This only confirms what I have already said several times: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was intended only as a start,” he said.

Ukraine’s government, emboldened by the influx of Western weaponry, said its beleaguered forces were still holding out inside a sprawling steel plant in the razed port city of Mariupol.

The Kremlin has called for the “liberation” of Mariupol, which is central to its war plans nearly two months after President Vladimir Putin ordered a shock invasion of Western-leaning Russia’s neighbor.

The forces “that laid down their arms are guaranteed life”

In a phone call to Putin, EU chief Charles Michel called for humanitarian access to Mariupol, which has been largely destroyed by weeks of intense Russian bombardment.

“I strongly urge immediate humanitarian access and safe passage from Mariupol and other further besieged cities on the occasion of Orthodox Easter,” Michel tweeted.

However, Putin accused kyiv of refusing to allow its troops to surrender in Mariupol.

“All servicemen of the Ukrainian armed forces, militants of the national battalions and foreign mercenaries who lay down their arms are guaranteed life,” Putin told Michel, the Kremlin said.

CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent Charlie D’Agata reported Friday that thousands of Ukrainians remained trapped inside a steel plant in Mariupol, surrounded by forces loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who earlier claimed victory in the city. Ukrainian officials said 100,000 people could still be trapped in Mariupol, which has been the scene of some of the worst fighting of the war.

Russia’s Defense Ministry earlier said it was ready to observe a humanitarian pause if kyiv’s troops surrendered.

“The enemy’s offensive operation in the south depends on Mariupol. The enemy is trying to concentrate all its efforts on it,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, told AFP.

Near the front lines in eastern Ukraine, some residents still held out amid frequent shelling.

After two months of sustained Russian artillery fire, the village of Lysychansk, located just 9 miles from Russian ground forces, has largely become a ghost town.

Only a small, sheltered market in the center of the city remains in operation, providing food and other supplies after the other market in the city was bombed.

“Everyone, this is going to end badly,” said an elderly woman in line to buy vegetables, fearing a targeted attack by Russian forces similar to a deadly rocket attack on the train station in the nearby city of Kramatorsk on April 8. that killed at least 52 people. .

In Severodonetsk, just 6 miles from the Russian positions, the city’s volunteers and medical staff continue to hold the fort at a local hospital that is littered with broken windows and some floors in darkness.

Shelling has recently resumed, and the city is likely to soon be surrounded by advancing Russian troops.

“We will stay here until the last patient,” says Roman Vodianik, the head of the hospital, whose office is decorated with Orthodox Christian icons.

Russia’s shift in strategic focus to southern and eastern Ukraine saw the invading forces leave a trail of indiscriminate destruction and civilian bodies around kyiv, including in the suburban city of Bucha.

A United Nations mission in Bucha documented “the unlawful killing, including summary execution, of some 50 civilians there,” the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

His spokesman, Ravina Shamdasani, said Russian forces had “indiscriminately shelled and shelled populated areas, killing civilians and destroying hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure, actions that may amount to war crimes.”

Ukrainian officials say the bodies of more than 1,000 civilians have been recovered from areas around kyiv.

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