All women, children and older adults rescued from Mariupol steel mill

Ukraine announced that all women, children and older adults had been evacuated from a besieged steel mill in Mariupol, a key Russian war objective, on Saturday as Russian forces bombarded the steel mill in the port city and fired cruise missiles at the southern city of Odesa.

Ukraine's military defends key positions ahead of Russia's WW II commemorations

Civilians evacuated from Mariupol steel mill as Russian forces continue attack

2 months ago
Duration 5:09
Ukraine's deputy prime minister says all women, children and the elderly have been evacuated from a besieged steel mill in Mariupol. It's unclear where all of the evacuees are headed.

Russian forces fired cruise missiles at the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa on Saturday and bombarded the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, hoping to complete their conquest of the port in time for Victory Day celebrations. Ukraine announced that all women, children and older adults had been evacuated from the mill, a key Russian war objective.

After rescuers extricated the last civilians from Azovstal on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address that the focus would turn to extracting the wounded and medics: "Of course, if everyone fulfils the agreements. Of course, if there are no lies."

He added that work would also continue Sunday on securing humanitarian corridors for residents of Mariupol and surrounding towns to leave.

Russian Col.-Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev confirmed the evacuations.

Russian state-run news agency Tass had reported that 50 civilians were evacuated on Saturday, a day after a similar number left. The latest evacuees followed roughly 500 others who were allowed to leave the plant and other parts of the city in recent days.

Smoke rises from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol during shelling on Saturday. (Alexei Alexandrov/The Associated Press)

The situation at the plant has drawn the world's attention, with the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross desperately trying to organize evacuations.

In recent days, fighters inside had described bringing out small groups of civilians who had been hiding there for weeks. The fighters said via social media that both they and the Russians have used a white-flag system to halt fighting in order to get civilians out.

But Russian forces have intensified fire on the mill with mortars, artillery, truck-mounted rocket systems, aerial bombardment and shelling from the sea, making evacuation operations difficult.

Three Ukrainian fighters were killed and six more were wounded during Friday's evacuation attempt. Capt. Sviatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, said his troops had waved white flags, and he accused Russian forces of firing an anti-tank weapon at a vehicle.

The Azov Regiment is a far-right group that is now part of the National Guard of Ukraine.

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It remains unclear what will happen to the estimated 2,000 fighters at Azovstal, both those still in combat and the hundreds believed to be wounded. In recent days, the Ukrainian government has been reaching out to international organizations to try to secure safe passage for them. The fighters have repeatedly vowed not to surrender.

Zelensky said officials were trying to find a way to evacuate the fighters. But he acknowledged the difficulty, saying, "We are not losing hope, we are not stopping. Every day we are looking for some diplomatic option that might work."

Russian forces have probed the plant and even reached into its warren of tunnels, according to Ukrainian officials.

War of attrition

The most intense fighting in recent days has been in Eastern Ukraine, where the two sides are entrenched in a fierce battle to capture or reclaim territory. Moscow's offensive there has focused on the eastern Donbas region — comprising Donetsk, in which Mariupol is located, and Luhansk — where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014 and occupy some areas.

The governor of the Luhansk region said a Russian strike destroyed a school in the village of Bilogorivka where 90 people were seeking safety in the basement. Gov. Serhiy Haidai, who posted pictures of the burning rubble on Telegram, said 30 people were rescued. The emergency services later reported that two bodies had been found and more could still be buried under the rubble. Rescue work was suspended overnight but was to resume on Sunday.

Haidai also said two boys aged 11 and 14 were killed by Russian shelling in the town of Pryvillia, while two girls aged eight and 12 and a 69-year-old woman were wounded.

Moscow has also sought to sweep across southern Ukraine to both cut off the country from the sea and connect its territory to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, long home to Russian troops. But it has struggled to achieve those objectives.

In a sign of the unexpectedly effective defence that has sustained the fighting into its 11th week, Ukraine's military flattened Russian positions on a Black Sea island that was captured in the war's first days and has become a symbol of resistance.

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed Ukraine targeting Russian-held Snake Island in a bid to impede Russia's efforts to control the Black Sea. An image taken early Saturday by Planet Labs PBC showed that most of the island's buildings had been destroyed by Ukrainian drone attacks, as well as what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft against the island's northern beach.

Thick black smoke rises after a suspected Ukrainian drone strike on Russian positions on Snake Island in the Black Sea on Friday. (Planet Labs PBC/The Associated Press)

The image corresponds with a Ukrainian military video showing a drone striking the Russian vessel, engulfing it in flames. Snake Island, located some 35 kilometres off the coast, figured in a memorable incident early in the war when Ukrainian border guards stationed there defied Russian orders to surrender, purportedly using colourful language.

Also on Saturday, six Russian cruise missiles fired from aircraft hit the region of Odesa, where authorities have a curfew in place until Tuesday morning. Videos posted on social media showed thick black smoke rising over the city as sirens wailed.

The Odesa city council said four of the missiles hit a furniture company, with the shock waves and debris badly damaging highrise apartment buildings. The other two missiles hit the Odesa airport, where the runway had already been taken out in a previous Russian attack.

A plume of black smoke billows after explosions in Odesa on Saturday. (@pigra_will_tell/Instagram/Reuters)

Air raid sirens sounded several times early Sunday, the city council said.

The largest European conflict since World War II has developed into a punishing war of attrition that has killed thousands of people, forced millions to flee their homes and destroyed large swaths of some cities.

Ukrainian leaders warned that attacks would only increase in the lead-up to Monday's holiday in Russia commemorating Nazi Germany's defeat 77 years ago, and Zelensky urged people to heed air raid warnings.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that Zelensky and his people "embody the spirit of those who prevailed during the Second World War." He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying "to twist history to attempt to justify his unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine."

Pro-Russian troops drive along a road in the village of Bezimenne in the Donetsk region on Saturday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

"As war again rages in Europe, we must increase our resolve to resist those who now seek to manipulate historical memory in order to advance their own ambitions," Blinken said in a statement as the United States and United Kingdom marked the Allied victory in Europe.

Western military analysts also said a Ukrainian counter-offensive was advancing around the nation's second-largest city, Kharkiv, even as it remained a key target of Russian shelling.

The Ukrainian military said Saturday it retook control of five villages in the Kharkiv region and part of a sixth, and later that Russian forces destroyed three bridges on a road northeast of the city to try to slow Ukraine's advance.