Ukraine officials on Friday said a new attempt had begun to evacuate scores of civilians trapped in a ruined steel works in the city of Mariupol, after bloody fighting with Russian forces thwarted efforts to bring them to safety the previous day.
UN-brokered evacuations of some of the hundreds of civilians who had taken shelter in the plant’s network of tunnels and bunkers began last weekend, but were halted in recent days by renewed fighting.
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According to Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential staff said, “The next stage of rescuing our people from Azovstal is under way at the moment. Information about the results will be provided later.”
Mariupol authorities later accused Russian forces of violating a ceasefire at the steel works and firing at a car involved in evacuation efforts, killing one Ukrainian fighter and wounding six.
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Meanwhile, on Friday, Ukraine’s general staff said that Russian forces were continuing their “attempts to fully take over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, areas in the east partially seized by Moscow-backed separatists in 2014.
Also, US President Joe Biden is expected to sign a new weapons package for Ukraine in the coming days worth at least $100 million, three US officials told Reuters on Friday. The latest package would likely include more munitions for systems like the Howitzers.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Mariupol on April 21 and ordered his forces to seal off the plant.
Ukrainian officials have said Russia might step up its offensive before May 9, when Moscow commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.
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Meanwhile, a senior official on Friday told the Russian parliament that Russia will remain in southern Ukraine “forever”, speaking on a visit to the Moscow-controlled city of Kherson.
“Russia is here forever. There should be no doubt about this. There will be no return to the past,” Andrey Turchak said, according to a statement from the ruling United Russia party.