The evacuation of Ukraine’s war-battered city of Mariupol has begun, but the Russian shelling apparently ceased only briefly.
Ukrainian National Guard brigade commander Denys Shlega said Sunday in a televised interview that Russia’s bombardment of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol summarized right after the partial evacuation of civilians.
Shlega said at least one more round of evacuations is needed to clear civilians from the plant, and that dozens of small children remain in bunkers below the industrial facilities.
Earlier in the day, the Mariupol city council told residents it was finally safe to evacuate and urged them to head toward Zaporozhye, 140 miles to the west. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on social media that 100 people were on their way to Ukrainian-controlled territory.
“We pray that everything will work out,” the city council said in a statement.
Shlega estimated that several hundred civilians remain at the steel plant, along with nearly 500 wounded soldiers and numerous dead bodies. According to some estimates, about 100,000 people may still be trapped in the port city, with dangerously low levels of food, water and utilities. The city council said evacuation of city districts that don’t include the steel plant has been postponed until Monday.
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►Russian troops have destroyed or damaged about 250 objects of the cultural heritage of Ukraine, said Oleksandr Tkachenko, Minister of Culture and Information Policy.
►German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged Sunday to continue to support Ukraine with money, aid and weapons, saying a pacifist approach to the war is “outdated.” Officials also said Germany expects to be independent of crude oil imports from Russia by late summer.
►Pope Francis, speaking during his traditional noontime prayer, again appealed for peace in Ukraine. Francis, in what has become a weekly plea, said he weeps thinking of the destruction of Mariupol and how the city has been “barbarously bombed and destroyed.”
►Poland’s armed forces said Sunday that weeks-long military exercises involving thousands of NATO soldiers have begun in the country.
►Undeterred by air raid sirens and warnings to shelter at home, people in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia visited cemeteries Sunday, when Ukrainians observed the Orthodox Christian day of the dead.
Ukraine says it’s fending off Russia’s eastern push
As Russian troops focus their attack on the eastern Donbas region, the Ukrainians are determined to put up the kind of stiff resistance that prompted the invaders to retreat from the Kyiv area.
The Ukrainian army said Sunday that a Russian offensive along a broad front in the east has been stalling amid human and material losses inflicted by Kyiv’s forces. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a Facebook post that Russian troops were trying to advance in the Sloboda, Donetsk, and Tauride regions, but were being held back by Ukrainian forces that continue to fight village by village.
Fighting has picked up around Kharkiv, an eastern city that was home to 1.4 million people before the war but is down to less than half of that now. Ukraine’s forces said Saturday they have retaken four villages around Kharkiv.
Pelosi meets with Zelenskyy in Kyiv
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation that met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv as Ukraine continued to weather bombardment by Russian military forces on its southern coast and eastern parts of the country.
Pelosi, second in line to succeed the president, provided the latest US show of support for Ukraine. She is the most senior American lawmaker to visit the country since Russia launched the war more than two months ago.
The visit came as some women and children were evacuated from a steel plant in Mariupol and as a Russian rocket attack destroyed an airport runway in Odessa, a Black Sea port on Ukraine’s southern border.
Pelosi posted a video to her Twitter account Sunday that showed her standing shoulder to shoulder with Zelenskyy, members of Congress – including representatives Jim McGovern, D-Mass.; Adam Schiff, D-Calif.; Jason Crow, D-Col.; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; Gregory Meeks, D-New York and Bill Keating, D-Mass. – and other Ukrainian officials.
“We are here to say to you that we are with you until the fight is over,” Pelosi said in the video.
Zelenskyy thanked Pelosi for the support, saying, “we’ll win together.”
Pelosi responded: “We are here until victory is won.”
Senate foreign relations chief: War ‘is not just about Ukraine’
Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said US support for Ukraine is critical to maintaining international order and for keeping American service members from being dragged into combat with Russia. Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd,” Menendez said the US will do whatever it takes to ensure Ukraine wins because “it is not just about Ukraine.”
“If Ukraine does not win, if Putin can not only succeed in Donbas but then be emboldened to maybe go further, if he strikes a country under NATO, under our treaty obligations with NATO, then we would be directly engaged,” Menendez said. “So stopping Russia to get to that point it is of critical interest to us as well as the world so that we don’t have to send our sons and daughters into battle. And I think our ability to not send our sons and daughters into battle is priceless.”
Ukraine ambassador praises Pelosi visit
Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit symbolized US support for her besieged country at a time when President Joe Biden’s $33 billion aid proposal is pending in Congress. The visit came less than a week after Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
“I think it’s yet another sign of very, very strong support that Ukraine has here in the United States,” Markarova told ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “We feel and we know that Americans are our brothers and sisters in this fight for freedom, for democracy.”
After 67 days of resistance to the Russian invasion, Markarova said the world has witnessed war crimes of rapes, torture and the siege of Mariupol. She said Russian behavior hasn’t changed, despite failing to meet its goals from its 2014 annexation of Crimea or the latest attack that began Feb. 24.
“We do not see the change in their behavior yet,” she said. “They are trying to scare Ukraine. They are trying to scare the world. But the fact and the truth is that Ukrainians are not afraid and our president and all Ukrainians are bravely defending our country. The world is not afraid.”
Schiff warns ‘horrific toll’ of Putin’s invasion is mounting
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday that during a three-hour discussion with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy they reviewed military, economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.
“The horrific toll of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression is mounting: missile strikes continue against large population centers, refugees are fleeing for their lives, while bodies are piled in mass graves,” Schiff said in a statement. “Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed or injured, and the entire world is feeling the reverberations of a global food shortage and skyrocketing energy prices – all due to Putin’s bloodlust.”
Food shortages in Middle East, Africa a ‘catastrophic effect’ of invasion
Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said a broader concern from the war in Ukraine is food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, where countries rely on Ukraine for 80% to 90% of their wheat and grain . Global food prices are up 34% from a year ago, she said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
“It is just another catastrophic effect of Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” Power said.
The Russian invasion has also disrupted production of sunflower oil in Ukraine, which was exporting more of it than any other country, leading to limits on the purchase of other cooking oils in other parts of the world, the New York Timesreported.
Power said the horrors of war are visible in the displacement of millions of refugees and the starvation of people in the siege of Mariupol.
“The (Ukrainian) courage is breathtaking and has inspired the world,” Power said. “Those are true horrors being perpetrated right now.”
Ukrainian women trained to clear land mines
A group of Ukrainian women is learning how to identify and defuse explosives, a need brought about by Russian forces leaving booby traps behind in the streets of Ukraine’s cities. While it is impossible to assess how littered with mines and unexploded ordnance Ukraine is at the moment, the aftermath of other conflicts suggest the problem will be huge.
“In many parts of the world, explosive remnants of war continue to kill and maim thousands of civilians each year during and long after active hostilities have ended. The majority of victims are children,” the International Committee of the Red Cross testified at a December UN conference.
Meanwhile, just outside Lviv on Saturday, volunteers in the Territorial Defense Forces were learning battlefield first aid and combat skills, New York Times reported.
Contributing: The Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism