Pelosi pledges support for US during visit to Ukraine; civilians evacuated from Mariupol

  • UN confirms ongoing ‘safe passage’ operation from Mariupol
  • A civilian evacuee feared the bunker would ‘give in’ to Russian bombs
  • Pelosi says US stands with Ukraine after meeting Zelenskiy
  • Russia claims to have destroyed weapons supplied by Western countries
  • Moscow steps up assault in southern Ukraine and eastern Donbass

KYIV/BEZIMENNE, Ukraine, May 1 (Reuters) – About 100 Ukrainian civilians were evacuated from the crumbling Azovstal steelworks in the city of Mariupol on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, after the United Nations confirmed that a “safe passage operation” was in progress. progress there.

The strategic port city on the Sea of ​​Azov suffered the most destructive siege of the war with Russia – now in its third month – with Pope Francis, in implied criticism of Moscow, telling thousands on Sunday St. Peter’s Square that he had been “barbarously bombarded”. Read more

“For the first time, we had two days of ceasefire in this territory and we managed to eliminate more than 100 civilians – women, children,” Zelenskiy said in an overnight video address.

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The first evacuees will arrive Monday morning in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, he said, adding that he hoped conditions would continue, allowing more people to be evacuated.

As fighting spreads across a broad front in southern and eastern Ukraine, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi pledged continued U.S. support for the Ukraine “until victory is won” after meeting Zelenskiy during an unannounced visit to Kyiv.

The Russian army has focused on southern and eastern Ukraine after failing to capture kyiv in the first weeks of a war that has destroyed cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million people to flee the country.

In Mariupol, Moscow declared victory on April 21 even as hundreds of resisting Ukrainian soldiers and civilians took refuge in the Azovstal steelworks, a sprawling Soviet-era complex with a network of bunkers and tunnels , where they were trapped with little food, water or medicine.

Negotiations to evacuate civilians had repeatedly failed in recent weeks, with Russia and Ukraine blaming each other.

But on Sunday more than 50 civilians arrived at a temporary accommodation center after escaping from Mariupol, a Reuters photographer said. Read more

The civilians arrived by bus in a convoy with UN and Russian military vehicles in the Russian village of Bezimenne, about 30 km (18 miles) east of Mariupol, where a row of light blue tents had been installed.

One of the evacuees, Natalia Usmanova, 37, said she was so terrified as Russian bombs rained down on the factory, sprinkling it with concrete dust, that she felt her heart stop. Read more

“When the bunker started shaking I was hysterical. My husband can attest to that. I was so scared the bunker would collapse,” she told Reuters in Bezimenne.

A spokesman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said a “safe passage operation” began on Saturday and was being coordinated with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Russia and Ukraine. Read more

He said no further details could be released so as not to compromise the safety of the evacuees and the convoy.

Denys Shleha, commander of Ukraine’s National Guard’s 12th Brigade, speaking to television on Sunday from the Azovstal factory, said several hundred civilians remained in bunkers there, including around 20 children , and that one or two additional evacuation efforts of a similar magnitude would be required.

The Russian Defense Ministry said 80 civilians had been evacuated from the factory.

A plan to evacuate civilians from areas of the devastated city outside the steelworks has been postponed until Monday morning, the Mariupol city council said.

Footage posted by Zelenskiy to Twitter on Sunday showed him, flanked by an armed escort and dressed in military fatigues, greeting a U.S. congressional delegation led by Pelosi outside his presidential office the day before.

“We stand with Ukraine until victory is won. And we stand with our NATO allies in support of Ukraine,” Pelosi, the top U.S. official in the US, said on Sunday. to be in Ukraine since the invasion of Russia on February 24, during a press briefing in Poland.

Zelenskiy praised the four hours of substantive talks with Pelosi focused on US arms deliveries, adding that he was grateful to all of Ukraine’s partners coming to Kyiv at such a difficult time.

US Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in New York that he would add provisions to a $33 billion Ukraine aid package to allow the US to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs and to send the money from their sale directly to kyiv. Read more

President Joe Biden on Thursday asked Congress to approve the aid package in what would mark a dramatic escalation in US funding for Ukraine. Read more

Biden spoke with Pelosi on Sunday about his trip, a White House official said without giving further details.

Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say that Russia has launched an unprovoked war of aggression.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow does not demand Zelenskiy “surrender” as a condition of peace.

“We demand that he give the order to free the civilians and put an end to the resistance. Our goal does not include regime change in Ukraine,” Lavrov said in a media interview published on the website of his ministry.

To the east, Moscow is pushing for full control of the Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists already controlled parts of Lugansk and Donetsk provinces before the invasion.

On Sunday, Kharkiv region governor Oleh Synehubov warned residents in northern and eastern Kharkiv city to stay in their shelters due to heavy Russian shelling. Reuters could not immediately verify reports of shelling in the area.

Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region, in a social media post urged people to evacuate while still possible.

The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were fighting to push north from Kherson towards the towns of Mykolayiv and Kryvyi Rih, and Zelenskiy said Russian troops continued to launch strikes on residential areas and destroyed depots grain storage.

“It will only reinforce the toxic attitude towards the Russian state and increase the number of those working to isolate Russia,” Zelenskiy said.

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Reporting by Hamuda Hassan and Jorge Silva in Dobropillia, Ukraine, and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Reuters reporters; Written by Clarence Fernandez, Frances Kerry, Alex Richardson and Michael Martina; Editing by David Goodman, Alexandra Hudson, Angus MacSwan, Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft

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