Dozens of civilians evacuated from besieged Mariupol steelworks

Mourners in Ukraine visited the graves of their loved ones

About 100 civilians have been evacuated from a besieged steel plant in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday.

The UN earlier said a ‘safe passage operation’ was underway at the Azovstal plant, the last dam in the port city which has been under a Russian blockade since the conflict began on February 24, while as the International Committee of the Red Cross has declared. was “currently participating” in the operation.

Neither the UN nor the ICRC specified the number of civilians they were transporting, and it was not immediately clear why the parties had given different figures.

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“Today we finally managed to start the evacuation of people from Azovstal,” Zelensky said in a video address, adding that they were due to arrive in Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhzhia on Monday.

He said he hoped the evacuations could continue on Monday, adding: “We expect to start at 8am (0600 GMT).”

The Russian Defense Ministry earlier confirmed that civilians were leaving, releasing video showing cars and buses driving around in the dark marked with a “Z”, the letter used by Russian forces in the conflict.

Western powers rushed to send military aid to Ukraine and imposed heavy sanctions on Russia.

“If they make threats, you can’t back down.”

Western powers have hit Russia with unprecedented sanctions, and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday more measures were in the works.

Diplomats in Brussels said the EU would propose to phase in a ban on Russian oil imports over a period of six to eight months.

Speaker of the lower house of parliament Vyacheslav Volodin has suggested that Moscow could seize Russia-based assets from countries it deems hostile. “It’s right to take reciprocal action,” he said.

The conflict in Ukraine has been most intense in the east and south, although there have been Russian missile strikes across the country, mainly targeting infrastructure and supply lines.

And three people died in the shelling of residential areas in and around the northeastern city of Kharkiv, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said on Telegram.

“From May 1, we will move into the ruble zone,” said Kirill Stremousov, civil and military administrator of Kherson, quoted by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

– ‘Stay in shape’ –

But Ukrainian forces have also taken over some territories in recent days, notably around Kharkiv.

“It was two months of terrible fear. Nothing else, terrible, unrelenting fear,” Natalia, a 28-year-old evacuee from Ruska Lozova, told AFP after reaching Kharkiv.

“Everyone understands that we have to hold the line here,” Lieutenant Yevgen Samoylov of the 81st Brigade told AFP as his unit moved away from the front line near the town of Svyatogirsk.

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