KHARKIV, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukrainian forces battled village after village on Saturday to repel a Russian advance across the east of the country, while the United Nations worked to broker the evacuation of civilians from Ukraine’s last stronghold in the ruins of the bombed-out port city. Mariupol.
An estimated 100,000 civilians remain in the city, and as many as 1,000 live under a sprawling Soviet-era steel mill.According to Ukrainian officials. Ukraine did not say how many fighters were also in the plant, which is the only part of Mariupol that was not occupied by Russian forces, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000.
Russian state media reported on Saturday that 25 civilians had been evacuated from Azovstal’s steel plants, although there was no confirmation from the United Nations or Ukrainian officials. Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said 19 adults and six children had been taken out of the factory, but gave no further details.
Video and photos from inside the factory, shared with the Associated Press by two Ukrainian women who said their husbands were among the fighters. Refusing to surrender there, he showed unidentified wounded men with stained bandages in need of changing; Others had open wounds or had limbs amputated.
The women, who identified their husbands as members of the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard, said that a skeletal medical staff was treating at least 600 wounded. They said some of the wounds were rotting from gangrene.
In the video shared by the women, the injured men told the camera that they eat once a day and share at least 1.5 liters (50 ounces) of water per day between four people. They said supplies inside the besieged facility ran out.
The AP was unable to independently verify the date and location of the footage, which the women said was taken last week in driveways under the steel mill.
A shirtless man spoke in palpable pain as he described his wounds: two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a dislocated arm that “was hanging over the body.”
“I want to tell everyone who sees this. If you do not stop this here, in Ukraine, it will go further, to Europe.
In other developments:
– Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators talk “almost every day.” But he told Xinhua that “the progress has not been easy.”
– His family said a former US Marine was killed fighting alongside Ukrainian forces, in what would be the first known death of an American in the war. The United States did not confirm the news.
– Mayor Nikolai Khanatov said that two buses heading to the eastern Ukrainian town of Popasna to evacuate residents came under fire and contact with the drivers was lost.
– Ukraine’s military said a Russian missile attack destroyed the runway of the airport in Odessa, Ukraine’s third most populous city and a major port on the Black Sea. Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported that “several” explosions were heard in Odessa on Saturday, prompting local authorities to advise residents to take shelter.
Getting a full picture of the battle going on in the east was difficult because the air strikes and artillery shelling made the movement of journalists too dangerous. Both Ukraine and Moscow-backed rebels fighting in the east have tightly restricted reporting from the combat zone.
But Western military analysts noted that Moscow’s offensive in the eastern Donbass region, which includes Mariupol, was proceeding much slower than planned. So far, Russian and Moscow-backed separatist forces in the region appear to have made only small gains in the month since Moscow said it would concentrate its military power in eastern Ukraine.
Numerically, Russia’s military manpower greatly exceeds the workforce in Ukraine. In the days before the war, Western intelligence estimated that Russia was stationed near the border with as many as 190,000 soldiers. The number of the permanent Ukrainian army is about 200,000 spread throughout the country.
A senior US defense official who spoke on the condition said the US believed the Russians were “at least several days behind where they want to be,” in part because of the insistence of the Ukrainian resistance, as they try to encircle Ukrainian forces in the east. Anonymity to discuss the US military’s assessment.
With plenty of firepower in reserve, the promised Russian offensive could still intensify and bypass the Ukrainians. Overall, the Russian Army has an estimated 900,000 personnel on active duty. Russia also has a much larger air and sea power than Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted this in his nightly speech.
If the Russian invaders succeed in realizing their plans, at least in part, they will still have enough artillery and aircraft to destroy the whole of Donbass. Just as they destroyed Mariupol.
In Mariupol, it is believed that about 100,000 people remain in the city with little food, water and medicine. UN spokesman Farhan Haq said the organization was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and Kiev to create conditions for safe passage.
Ukraine has blamed the failure of several previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian bombing.
The ferocity of the fighting astonished the world. In the United States, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby became emotional on Friday when he discussed the “brutality” and “corruption” of the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It’s hard to look at what he’s doing in Ukraine, what his troops are doing in Ukraine, and think that any moral or ethical individual can justify that,” Kirby, a retired admiral, told reporters. “It’s hard to look at some pictures and imagine that any serious and well-thought-out leader would do it. So, I can’t speak to his psychology. But I think we can all talk about his corruption.”
For those at the Mariupol Steel Plant, an extensive network of tunnels and underground bunkers provided safety from air strikes. But the situation has become more dangerous After the Russians threw “bunker-busting missiles” and other bombs at the factory, the mayor said Friday.
The women who said their husbands were at the plant as part of the Azov regiment said they feared the soldiers would be tortured and killed if the Russians and their families left them. They requested a Dunkirk-style mission to evacuate fighters, in reference to the World War II operation launched to rescue besieged Allied forces in northern France.
“We need to do it now,” Katerina Prokopenko, 27, told the Associated Press in Rome.
The Azov Battalion that helps defend the steel plant has its roots in the Azov Battalion, formed in 2014 by far-right activists at the start of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russian officials pointed to the regiment’s past as they tried to justify its activities in eastern Ukraine.
Associated Press journalists John Gambrel and Juras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jesica Fisch in Sloviansk, Lolita C. Baldur in Washington, Trisha Thompson in Rome and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the Associated Press’ coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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