By MSTYSLAV CHERNOV and YESICA FISCH, Associated Press
KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces fought village by village Saturday to halt a Russian advance in the east of the country, as the United Nations worked to broker a civilian evacuation from the last defensive stronghold in the bombed-out ruins of the port city of Mariupol.
According to Ukrainian officials, around 100,000 civilians still live in the city and up to 1,000 live under a sprawling Soviet-era steelworks. Ukraine did not say how many fighters were also at the factory, the only part of Mariupol not occupied by Russian forces, but Russia put the number at around 2,000.
Russian state media reported on Saturday that 25 civilians had been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant, although there was no confirmation from the UN or Ukrainian officials. Russian news agency RIA Novosti said 19 adults and six children were released, but gave no further details.
Video and footage from inside the factory, shared with The Associated Press by two Ukrainian women who said their husbands were among the fighters refusing to go there, showed unidentified men with bandages tasks ; others had open wounds or amputated limbs.
Political cartoons about world leaders
Skeletal medical personnel were treating at least 600 wounded, said the women, who identified their husbands as members of the Ukrainian National Guard’s Azov regiment. Some of the wounds were rotting with gangrene, they said.
In the video, the men said they only ate once a day and shared only 1.5 liters (50 ounces) of water a day between four people, and that the stores inside the besieged installation were exhausted.
The AP could not independently verify the date and location of the video, which the women say was taken last week in the maze of passageways under the factory.
A shirtless man appeared to be in pain as he described his injuries: two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a dislocated arm that “hung from the flesh”.
“I want to say to everyone who sees this: if you don’t stop it here, in Ukraine, it will go further, in Europe,” he said.
– Lines formed at gas stations in Kyiv, Dnipro and other cities as Ukraine faced fuel shortages because Russia destroyed its fuel infrastructure and blocked ports, the official said. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his speech on Friday. He said there were “no immediate solutions” to the shortages, but hoped the situation would improve within a week or two.
— The bodies of three men were found buried in a forest near the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, the Kyiv regional police chief said. The men, whose bodies were found on Friday, had been tortured before being shot in the head, Andriy Nebytov wrote on Facebook. Ukrainian officials alleged that retreating Russian troops had committed massacres of civilians in Bucha.
– Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators talk to each other “almost every day”. However, he told China’s state news agency Xinhua, “progress has not been easy.”
– Two buses sent to evacuate residents of the eastern town of Popasna were fired upon and contact with organizers was lost, Mayor Nikolai Khanatov said: “We know that (the buses) reached the town, then were the target of enemy sabotage. and recognition group.
– A Russian rocket attack destroyed the runway at the airport in Odessa, Ukraine’s third-most populous city and a key Black Sea port, the Ukrainian military said.
Getting a full picture of the battle unfolding in eastern Ukraine has been difficult as airstrikes and artillery barrages have made it extremely dangerous for journalists to travel. In addition, Ukraine and Moscow-backed rebels have introduced strict restrictions on reporting from the combat zone.
But Western military analysts have suggested that Moscow’s offensive in the Donbass region, which includes Mariupol, is proceeding much more slowly than expected. So far, Russian troops and separatists appear to have made only minor gains in the month since Moscow said it would concentrate its military force in the east.
Numerically, Russia’s military strength greatly exceeds that of Ukraine. In the days before the war began, Western intelligence estimated that Russia had positioned up to 190,000 troops near the border; The standing army of Ukraine numbers about 200,000 men, spread across the country.
Yet, in part because of the tenacity of the Ukrainian resistance, the United States believes the Russians are “at least several days behind what they wanted to be” as they attempt to surround Ukrainian troops at east, a senior US defense official said. on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. military’s assessment.
With plenty of firepower still in reserve, the Russian offensive could intensify further and overtake the Ukrainians. Overall, the Russian army has about 900,000 men in active service. Russia also has a much larger air force and navy.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid have flowed into Ukraine since the war began, but Russia’s vast arsenals mean Ukraine’s needs are nearly inexhaustible.
Mariupol officials described severe shortages of food, water and medicine. UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu said the world organization was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and Kyiv, but could not provide details on the ongoing evacuation effort. due to the complexity and fluidity of the operation”.
“There are, right now, high-level engagements going on with all governments, Russia and Ukraine, to make sure you can save civilians and support the evacuation of civilians from the plant.” , Abreu told AP. He did not confirm video posted on social media allegedly showing UN-registered vehicles in Mariupol.
Ukraine has blamed the failure of many previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian shelling.
The ferocity of the fighting stunned the world. In the United States, the Pentagon’s press secretary, John Kirby, was moved on Friday by evoking the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It’s hard to look at what he’s doing in Ukraine, what his forces are doing in Ukraine, and to think that any ethical, moral individual could justify that,” said Kirby, a retired rear admiral. , to journalists. “It’s hard to look at some of the footage and imagine any thoughtful, serious, mature leader would do that. So I can’t talk about his psychology. But I think we can all talk about his depravity.
For those at the Mariupol Steelworks, an extensive underground network of tunnels and bunkers provided security against airstrikes. But the situation worsened after the Russians dropped “bunker breakers” and other bombs on the factory, the mayor said on Friday.
Women who said their husbands are in the factory with the Azov regiment said they feared the soldiers would be tortured and killed if left behind and captured.
The Azov Regiment has its roots in the Azov Battalion, formed in 2014 by far-right activists at the start of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia referenced the regiment’s past while attempting to justify the invasion.
Associated Press reporters Jon Gambrell and Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Yesica Fisch in Sloviansk, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Trisha Thompson in Rome and AP staff around the world contributed to this report .
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.