Thursday, April 18

Russia’s war escalates in eastern Ukraine even as Mariupol ceasefire enables evacuations from Azovstal steel plant

Bakhmut, Ukraine — The evacuation of civilians who’ve spent two months holed up in tunnels under a sprawling steelworks in the besieged southeast Ukrainian city of Mariupol resumed on Monday. About 100 of the estimated 1,000 civilians who’ve been hiding out in the makeshift shelter during weeks of relentless Russian bombardment managed to escape on Sunday, officials said, and the ceasefire enabling those evacuations appeared to be holding.

Ukraine’s president said more than 100 civilians had been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant and were due to arrive in Ukraine-controlled Zaporizhzhia on Monday, with more evacuations planned. The civilians have been hiding in the Soviet-era tunnels under the plant along with about 2,000 Ukrainian forces — the last holdouts after Russia’s devastating effort to completely capture the strategic port city of Mariupol.

“For the first time, there were two days of real ceasefire on this territory. More than 100 civilians have already been evacuated — women and children first of all,” said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

FILE PHOTO: Azovstal civilian evacuations in Mariupol
Members of the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s defense forces walk with civilians during U.N.-led evacuations from the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, after nearly two months of siege warfare on the city by Russia during its invasion, in a still image from handout video released May 1, 2022 by the Azov Regiment.

David Arakhamia/Azov Regiment/Handout/REUTERS

As CBS News senior foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports, they emerged as dazed survivors from beneath the rubble and remains of the pummeled plant.    

“I can’t believe it,” said Natalia Usmanova as she stepped into the daylight on Sunday. “Two months of darkness. We did not see any sunlight. We were so scared.”

Families — many with children and even pets — are among those now headed for the relative safety of Ukrainian-held territory. D’Agata says that their rescue, after so many failed attempts, marks a significant achievement for both the United Nations and the Red Cross which spent weeks negotiating the humanitarian ceasefire.

It has also raised some hope that lives can be saved in Ukraine, even from besieged cities like Mariupol. But D’Agata says that while the guns fell silent in the port city, fighting has continued to rage along the front-line battlefields of eastern Ukraine.

Russia slowly advancing in eastern Ukraine


A grinding Russian offensive there has forced the few remaining residents in towns like Lyman to flee. There, D’Agata and his team saw volunteers risking their own lives to save others.

Right after the CBS News team left, a Russian airstrike destroyed a railway bridge leading out of the town. It was part of a wider campaign by Russia’s military to try to stop more weapons from the U.S. and other Western nations from reaching the Ukrainian forces fighting on the front lines.

As the fighting in the eastern Donbas regions escalates, however, there have been further indications that the war President Vladimir Putin started is extending beyond those front lines to Russian soil. Explosions were reported in the Russian border town of Belgorod, where social media video captured a military installation on fire.

The Switchblade “kamikaze” drone


Russia’s forces are also being targeted on the water. Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said a new video showed its forces using drones to destroy two high-speed Russian patrol boats in the Black Sea.  

Ukraine’s exhausted soldiers remain outnumbered and outgunned, however, and they can only hope the latest $33 billion worth of promised heavy weapons from America gets to them before the Russian military does.

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