Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky today appealed to the head of the United Nations to asked help ‘save’ the lives of the remaining wounded Ukrainians under siege at the Azovstal steel plant in the decimated city of Mariupol.
‘The lives of the people who remain there are in danger. Everyone is important to us. We ask for your help in saving them,’ Zelensky told Antonio Guterres by phone, after thanking him for the successful evacuations earlier this week led by the UN and Red Cross.
He called on the UN to ‘assist in the removal of all the wounded from Azovstal’, civilians and soldiers alike.
Zelensky’s call with Guterres came as Russia said its forces would cease fire on the plant and open a humanitarian corridor for civilians for three days beginning Thursday.
‘The Russian armed forces will from 8am to 6pm Moscow time (0500 GMT to 1500 GMT) on May 5, 6 and 7 open a humanitarian corridor from the territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant to evacuate civilians,’ the defence ministry said on Wednesday.
‘During this period, the Russian armed forces and formations of the Donetsk People’s Republic will unilaterally cease any hostilities,’ the statement read, adding that civilians sheltering at the plant will be allowed to travel to Russia or Kyiv-controlled territory.
Mariupol has endured near constant bombardment since the first week of the war and Ukrainian authorities believe upwards of 20,000 civilians have likely been killed there.
A view shows a damaged facility of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 3, 2022
Russian shelling of the plant commenced yet again on Tuesday as Ukraine accused Moscow of launching a ‘powerful’ assault on the industrial zone
People from Mariupol, including from Azovstal metallurgical plant arrive in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on May 3, 2022 as Russian attacks continue
Relatives and friends of defenders of Mariupol attend a rally demanding Ukrainian and international leaders to call on world leaders to help organize a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of soldiers and civilians from Mariupol, at the Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine
Mariupol has endured near constant bombardment since the first week of the war and Ukrainian authorities believe upwards of 20,000 civilians have likely been killed there
An elderly civilian leans on his cane as he clambers out from the rubble of the Azovstal steel plant
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky today appealed to the head of the United Nations to asked help ‘save’ the lives of the remaining wounded Ukrainians under siege at the Azovstal steel plant in the decimated city of Mariupol
A small contingent of Ukrainian fighters are still holed up in the Azovstal plant along with up to 1,000 civilians, but the rest of the city is under Russian control.
There was a brief respite in the shelling over the weekend and Monday, which allowed more than 100 civilians to evacuate via buses to Ukraine-controlled territory northwest near Zaporizhzhia.
But shelling commenced yet again on Tuesday as Ukraine accused Moscow of launching a ‘powerful’ assault on the industrial zone.
The mayor of Mariupol Vadym Boychenko said that contact had been lost with Ukrainian forces holed up in the plant amid ‘heavy fighting’ with Russian troops.
The Russian army meanwhile said it had restarted its bombing campaign on Azovstal because Ukrainian troops had used the pause in fighting to regroup and take up combat positions.
More than 100 people – including elderly women and mothers with small children – left the rubble-strewn Azovstal steelworks on Sunday and set out in buses and ambulances for the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, about 140 miles to the northwest, according to authorities and video released by the two sides.
At least some of the civilians were apparently taken to a village controlled by Russia-backed separatists. The Russian military said that some chose to stay in separatist areas, while dozens left for Ukrainian-held territory.
In the past, Ukraine has accused Moscow’s troops of taking civilians against their will to Russia or Russian-controlled areas, a claim the Kremlin has denied.
Before the weekend evacuation, overseen by the United Nations and the Red Cross, about 1,000 civilians were believed to be in the plant along with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders. Russia has demanded that the fighters surrender, but they have refused.
Russia resumed pulverizing the Mariupol steel works that has become the last stronghold of resistance in the bombed-out city, Ukrainian fighters said Monday, after a brief cease-fire over the weekend allowed the first evacuation of civilians from the plant
As many as 100,000 people overall may still be in Mariupol, which had a prewar population of around 450,000.
Heart-wrenching footage emerged yesterday of terrified and exhausted Ukrainian civilians being evacuated from Azovstal.
The clips were captured by Ukraine‘s Azov battalion and give harrowing insight into the conditions endured by the civilians holed up in the factory, many of whom shared their thoughts on the conflict and the impact of the Russian invasion.
‘There are more than ten children from 10 to 12 years old in our bunker alone,’ one woman said as her child sobbed into her chest.
‘A few more bombs and our bunker will be no more… you can imagine the mental condition of the children.’
Another evacuee expressed fear among civilians that they would be shipped off to Russian-controlled regions instead Ukraine-held Zaporizhzhia, as has happened to many internally-displaced Ukrainians in the Donbas region.
‘There are more than ten children from 10 to 12 years old in our bunker alone,’ one woman said as her child sobbed into her chest. She explained how the steel plant had been pounded with Russian shells and was close to collapsing
Another evacuee expressed fear among civilians that they would be shipped off to Russian-controlled regions instead Ukraine-held Zaporizhzhia as they evacuated the plant
Ukrainian evacuees being driven away from the Azovstal steel plant burst into tears as they witness the destruction on the surface
Others spoke of their desperation simply to make it to any part of Ukraine not under Russian control, and claimed it was impossible to even attempt leaving prior to the brief ceasefire due to daily bombing campaigns
People from Mariupol, including from Azovstal metallurgical plant arrive in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, yesterday evening
More pictures emerged late last night and early this morning of some of the evacuees arriving in Zaporizhzhia in relative safety, suggesting that the UN and Red Cross-led evacuations were largely successful
‘There are a lot of children here, a lot of women. If everything goes well, civilians will leave…. A lot of people are still here, they’re afraid to go because there are no guarantees they will be taken to Zaporizhzhia as promised.’
Others spoke of their desperation simply to make it to any part of Ukraine not under Russian control, and claimed it was impossible to even attempt leaving prior to the brief ceasefire due to daily bombing campaigns.
The final clip shared by the Azov battalion showed a bus full of evacuees driving away from the steel plant, presumably to relative safety in Zaporizhzhia.
But instead of relief or elation, the passengers were overwhelmed with sadness, bursting into tears as they witnessed the destruction around them.
More pictures emerged late last night and early this morning of some of the evacuees arriving in Zaporizhzhia, suggesting that the UN and Red Cross-led evacuations were largely successful.
Moment Russia uses ‘thermobaric warheads’ to devastate Azovstal plant: Communications are lost with heroic last defenders of Mariupol a day after Russian troops began storming the steel works
- Communication has been lost with the last Ukrainian soldiers defending Mariupol, the exiled mayor has said
- Comes a day after commander said Russians were storming Azovstal plant with tanks, troops and armour
- New video shows the plant being bombarded with what appear to be lung-crushing thermobaric rockets
- If Azovstal is captured then it would put Russia in full control of Mariupol, the largest city to fall during the war
Communications have today been lost with the last heroic defenders of Mariupol holed up inside the Azovstal steel works, after Russian forces stormed the complex.
Vadym Boichenko, mayor of the besieged city, said there is ‘heavy fighting’ ongoing inside the plant today and that he had ‘lost contact’ with those inside.
There is no way of knowing ‘what’s going on, whether they are safe or not,’ he said.
The grim news came as footage emerged showing Russian forces using what appeared to be lung-crushing thermobaric rockets to bombard Azovstal as tanks and troops moved into the sprawling industrial zone.
Footage released by the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic today showed lines of rocket artillery cutting through factories and warehouses that sit in the centre of Mariupol and are the last redoubt of the city’s beleaguered defenders.
Russia appears to to be trying to seize Azovstal despite Vladimir Putin announcing last month that he had called off the operation to preserve the lives of his troops.
News that communications have been lost will raise fears for the safety of hundreds of civilians thought to be inside, just days after 100 were rescued during a ceasefire.
Ukraine had been calling for the ceasefire to be extended so that all civilians could be removed, but Russia accused Kyiv’s troops of ‘taking advantage’ of the break in fighting to set up new defensive positions and resumed bombing yesterday.
Rocket artillery pounds the Azovstal steel complex, at the heart of the besieged city of Mariupol, as the exiled mayor says communications have been lost with the last troops holed up inside
Footage showing the bombardment was released today by the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, whose troops are leading attacks on Mariupol alongside regular Russian army units
Azovstal is a huge industrial complex made up of factories, warehouses and underground tunnels where an unknown number of Ukrainian troops are holed up alongside hundreds of civilians
Putin will soon have ‘no way back’ from nuclear war, propagandist claims
Vladimir Putin will soon have ‘no way back’ but to unleash nuclear weapons on Ukraine, a leading Russian TV war reporter has claimed.
Alexander Sladkov advocated dropping an atomic bomb to cause ‘a crater the size of several regions’ in a ‘demonstrative way’ to intimidate NATO.
Russia has claimed the goal of its military campaign in Ukraine is to ‘liberate’ it from the control of supposed ‘neoNazis’ – despite Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky being Jewish and far-right politicians receiving little support in the country.
But Sladkov – described as a war reporter and ‘propagandist’ – told his 730,000 followers the time may be approaching for the ‘last resort’ due to some 40 countries arming Ukraine with weapons which are being used against the Russians.
The Russian president placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert shortly after its invasion of Ukraine began February 24, though the US says it has seen no sign that Putin is preparing to actually use the weapons.
And amid increasing Western support to Ukraine, Putin has made thinly veiled threats hinting at a willingness to deploy Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons, which Russian military doctrine holds can be used to force an adversary to retreat.
‘There is more and more talk about nuclear weapons, and Russia has much to say about it,’ Sladkov posted. ‘We have a solution for Ukraine.
‘There are several, yet we are getting reminded about the last resort – nuclear weapons. If no-one is going to hear us, and 40 countries keep helping the Ukrainian neoNazis, we will have no way back.’
Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov battalion which is defending the plant, said an assault on the steel works began Tuesday afternoon with tanks, armoured vehicles, boats and ‘large numbers of infantry’ moving in.
‘We will do everything possible to repel this assault,’ he said in his last video message before communications were cut.
If Azovstal falls then it will mean Russia seizing control over the whole of Mariupol, making it the largest city to be captured by Putin’s forces.
It would also provide the Kremlin with a huge propaganda boost ahead of the annual Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9, marking the surrender of Nazi Germany.
Kyiv said today that Moscow could be planning to hold a parade inside Mariupol itself, in an attempt to claim some semblance of victory after more than two months of fighting.
Kyiv said an official from Russia’s presidential administration had arrived in the port city, which has been largely destroyed in Russia’s more than two-month invasion of Ukraine, to oversee plans for the Victory Day parade.
‘Mariupol will become a centre of ‘celebration’,’ Ukraine’s military intelligence said in a statement on social media.
‘The central streets of the city are urgently being cleaned of debris, bodies and unexploded ordnance.
‘A large-scale propaganda campaign is under way. Russians will be shown stories about the ‘joy’ of locals on meeting the occupiers,’ it said.
Mariupol mayor Vadym Boichenko later told Ukrainian television there were ongoing ‘works’ in the city, as if the Russians were preparing for something.
‘They are removing signs of the crimes they have committed,’ he said.
One such ‘crime scene’ exists on the site of the Mariupol theatre, a building with bomb shelters underneath that was being used to house hundreds of civilians when it was struck by a Russian bomb.
Investigators from the Associated Press said today that the attack is now though to have killed at least 600 – including children – which is double the initial estimate put out by the Ukrainians.
AP based its estimate on two sets of floor plans of the venue, photographs and video taken inside before, during and after that day, and feedback from experts who reviewed the methodology.
The TOS-1 thermobaric launcher is comprised of a tank body with a rack of rockets on top that can be used to bombard an area in order to inflict casualties, destroy defensive positions, and pave the way for a ground assault
Thermobaric rockets work by dispersing and then igniting a cloud of fuel, creating a vaccum that will crush the lungs of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the explosion – but will also produce a blast wave that is much more powerful and destructive than average rocket artillery
The investigation also refutes Russian claims that the theatre was demolished by Ukrainian forces or served as a Ukrainian military base because none of the witnesses saw Ukrainian soldiers operating inside the building.
It likely makes the Mariupol bombing the single-deadliest attack on civilians of the entire war – which was carried out despite the word ‘children’ being painted in Russian in huge letters outside the building, to warn soldiers that innocent people were taking shelter there.
Freed up from fighting in the city, Russian troops could then move north to join the battle for Donbas – widely viewed as pivotal to the outcome of the war.
As fighting raged in Mariupol, Russian forces pounded targets elsewhere in Ukraine, targeting train lines used to bring foreign weapons into the west of the country while also stepping up attacks on the eastern front.
The Russian military said Wednesday it used sea- and air-launched precision guided electrical substations at five rail stations, while artillery and aircraft also struck troop strongholds and fuel and ammunition depots.
While the Russian attacks were across a wide swath of Ukraine, some were concentrated in and around Lviv, the western city close to the Polish border that has been a gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.
Explosions were heard late Tuesday in the city, which has seen only sporadic attacks during the war and has become a haven for civilians fleeing the fighting elsewhere.
The mayor said the strikes damaged three power substations, knocking out electricity in parts of the city and disrupting the water supply. Two people were hurt.
The attacks on rail infrastructure were meant to disrupt the delivery of Western weapons, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said, while his boss, Minister Sergei Shoigu, told top military brass that the West was ‘stuffing Ukraine with weapons.’
Western weaponry pouring into Ukraine helped its forces blunt Russia’s initial offensive and seems certain to play a central role in the battle for the Donbas, which Moscow now says is its focus following its failure to take Kyiv in the early weeks of the war.
Ukraine has urged the West to ramp up the supply of weapons ahead of that potentially decisive battle.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, which had been slow at first to help arm Ukraine, said Wednesday his government is considering supplying Ukraine with howitzers, in addition to Gepard anti-aircraft guns and other equipment.
A satellite image taken of the Azovstal steel works on Tuesday shows heavy damage to some of the plant’s main building, which sit above an underground network of tunnels
Smoke rises from part of the Azovstal complex in this satellite image taken on Tuesday, when Russian forces were carrying out a heavy bombardment of the area
Heavily damaged factory buildings (bottom) are seen next to buildings that have only medium levels of damage (top) inside the Azovstal steel works in satellite images taken on Tuesday
Russia surrounded the Azovstal complex weeks ago and has been bombarding it ever since, except for a short pause last week when around 100 civilians were able to evacuate – with hundreds still thought to be in there
Survivors of steelwork hell humiliated by Vladimir Putin’s troops
Refugees from Mariupol were subjected to a humiliating interrogation by Russian troops before they were finally freed from the steelworks where they had been hiding for two months.
Exhausted survivors told the Daily Mail they were called ‘Ukrainian scum’, had their underwear checked and were forced to give their fingerprints at a Russian checkpoint before they were allowed to board Red Cross buses.
Dozens of refugees arriving at a UN aid centre in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia yesterday also gave horrifying accounts of their time cowering in bunkers at the Azovstal steelworks.
Tonight, there were fears for hundreds of civilians still trapped at the Soviet-era site as Russian bombs rained down in a relentless barrage.
Around 156 survivors were rescued in a mercy mission at the weekend after the Red Cross managed to secure a ceasefire.
But it emerged that part of the deal with the Kremlin meant the evacuees had to be ‘screened’ by brutish Russian soldiers at the occupied town of Bezimenne, 30 miles east from Mariupol, before they were released back into Ukrainian-held territory.
Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, said attacks in the eastern Donbas region left 21 civilians dead.
The governor of the eastern Donetsk region, which lies in the Donbas, said Tuesday was the deadliest day for civilians in his region since April 8, when a missile attack on the railway station in Kramatorsk killed at least 59 people.
Russia has deployed a significant number of troops in the region and appears to be trying to advance in the north, as they try to cut Ukrainian forces off, according to an assessment from the British Defense Ministry.
However, Moscow’s push has been slow as Ukrainian fighters dig in and use long-range weapons to target the Russians.
In addition to supplying weapons to Ukraine, Europe and the United States have sought to punish Moscow with sanctions.
The EU’s top official called on the 27-nation bloc on Wednesday to ban Russian oil imports.
‘We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets,’ European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
The proposals need unanimous approval from EU countries and are likely to be the subject of fierce debate. Hungary and Slovakia have already said they won’t take part in any oil sanctions, but von der Leyen didn’t elaborate on whether they would receive an exemption, which appears likely.
Von der Leyen also proposed that Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, and two other major banks be disconnected from the SWIFT international banking payment system.
But Hungary warned that it could not support the proposed EU ban on Russian oil in its current form as it would ‘completely destroy’ its energy supply security.
The proposal ‘cannot be responsibly supported in this form, we cannot responsibly vote for it,’ said Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in a video message posted on his Facebook page.
‘This sanctions package would completely destroy the security of Hungary’s energy supply,’ he said.
The EU proposal would ban Russian crude gradually over the next six months and refined fuels by the end of this year, but Hungary and Slovakia – both highly depending on Moscow’s oil exports – would get until the end of 2023.
Parents who were evacuated from the Azovstal steel works shortly before Russia began its attack embrace with their young child after being evacuated during a ceasefire last week
A woman with an injured are is taken off a bus transporting evacuees from the Azovstal steel works to Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian-controlled city some 125 miles to the north
People tearfully embrace at a reception centre for refugees evacuated from the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, who were brought out during a ceasefire last week just before Russia attacked
A tearful reunion takes place between evacuees of the Azovstal steel plant as they arrive in the city of Zaporizhzhia
‘The delivery of crude oil from Russia to Europe would be banned, with a short deadline, in the case of Hungary from the end of next year,’ Szijjarto said.
Ambassadors from the 27 European Union countries met on Wednesday to assess the plan, which will need unanimous approval before going into effect.
Szijjarto said Budapest would back the proposal if crude oil delivered via pipelines was exempted from the EU’s ban.
‘This is not a question of lack of political will, or of intention or timing, but simply this is the physical, geographical, and infrastructural reality,’ he said.
According to the government, 65 percent of Hungary’s oil and 85 percent of its gas supplies come from Russia.
Hungary has long ruled out supporting any import ban with Prime Minister Viktor Orban – who has cultivated close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years – citing the central European country’s dependency on Russian gas and oil.
‘We don’t see any plan or guarantee on how even a transition could be managed on the basis of the current proposals, and what would guarantee Hungary’s energy security,’ the Hungarian government’s press office said in a statement sent to AFP earlier Wednesday.