Zaporozhye, Ukraine – Russian forces fired cruise missiles at the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa on Saturday and shelled a metallurgical plant in Mariupol home to Ukrainian civilians and militants, hoping to complete the conquest of the port city before Victory Day. Ukraine has announced that all women, children and the elderly have been evacuated from a metallurgical plant, a key Russian military target that has been under siege for a long time.
As a sign of an unexpectedly effective defense that supported the fighting during the 11th week, the Ukrainian military leveled Russian positions on the Black Sea island, which was captured in the early days of the war and became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
Western military analysts said the Ukrainian counteroffensive was also advancing around the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv, even though it remained the main target of Russian shelling. The Ukrainian army said it had regained control of five villages and part six near hot Kharkiv.
With the approach of Monday in Russia in honor of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, cities across Ukraine were preparing for the expected increase in Russian attacks. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky called on residents who have been speechless for more than 10 weeks to listen to warnings about air raids.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Saturday that Zelensky and his people “embody the spirit of those who prevailed during World War II.” He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to “twist history to justify his unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine.”
“As war rages again in Europe, we must step up our resolve to confront those who are now seeking to manipulate historical memory to advance their own ambitions,” Blinken said in a statement issued at a time when the United States and the United Kingdom are celebrating Allied victory. to Europe 77 years ago.
The most intense fighting in recent days has taken place in eastern Ukraine, where both sides have engaged in a fierce race to seize or retake territory. Moscow’s offensive in eastern Ukraine focuses on claims to the Donbass industrial region, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014 and occupy some areas.
Moscow has also sought to encircle southern Ukraine to cut off the country from the sea and connect its territory with Moldova’s separatist Transnistrian region, where Russian troops have long been stationed. But he did his best to achieve these goals.
On Saturday, six Russian cruise missiles fired from the plane hit the Odessa region, where authorities are operating curfew until Tuesday morning. Video posted on social networks shows that thick black smoke is rising over Odessa, and sirens will enter the background.
Satellite imagery analyzed by the Associated Press shows that Ukraine is targeting Snake Island in Russia to thwart Russia’s efforts to control the Black Sea. A satellite image taken Saturday at PBC Planet Labs showed what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft amid the island’s northern beach.
The image corresponds to a video of the Ukrainian military, which shows a drone striking a Russian ship, engulfing it in flames. Snake Island, located about 20 miles off the coast, was featured in a memorable incident at the start of the war, when Ukrainian border guards stationed there challenged Russian capitulation orders, allegedly using colorful expressions.
Against this background, the Ukrainian militants made a final position to prevent the complete capture of Mariupol. Securing a strategically important port in the Sea of Azov would give Moscow a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine during the 2014 invasion.
New satellite photos analyzed by the AP show the huge destruction at the seaside steel plant, which is the last corner of the Ukrainian resistance in the city. According to pictures taken on Friday by PBC Planet Labs, there were big holes in the roof of the buildings of the Azovstal plant, including hundreds of fighters and civilians.
“The president’s order has been fulfilled: all women, children and the elderly have been evacuated from Azovstal (a metallurgical enterprise),” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Verashchuk said on Saturday. “This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation is over.”
Russia’s TASS news agency reported that 50 civilians were evacuated from the plant on Saturday. The same number left on Friday. The latest evacuees have followed about 500 others who have been allowed to leave the plant and other parts of the city in recent days.
The evacuation of civilians from the plant has attracted worldwide attention, and the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross are desperately trying to organize trips.
In recent days, fighters at the plant have said they have taken out small groups of civilians who have been hiding for weeks. The militants posted a statement on social media saying that both they and the Russians used the white flag system to stop fighting to pull out civilians.
But in recent days, Russian forces have intensified fire on the steel plant with mortars, artillery, truck jet systems, aerial bombardment and shelling from the sea, making evacuation difficult.
It remains unclear what will happen to the Ukrainian fighters who are still in battle, and hundreds of wounded. In recent days, the Ukrainian government has appealed to various international organizations to try to guarantee them safe travel.
The flight of civilians is putting new pressure on Ukraine to find a way out for fighters who have vowed not to give up. According to Ukrainian officials, Russian forces have already investigated the station and even climbed into its tunnels.
The Ukrainian government has called on international organizations to also help evacuate fighters defending the plant. According to the latest estimates of Russia, about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters remained on Azovstal. They repeatedly refused to give up.
The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky stated that “influential states” took part in rescuing the soldiers, although he did not name any.
“We are also working on diplomatic options to rescue our troops who are still on Azovstal,” he said in a daily video message on Saturday.
Relieving those who were evacuated, the memory of those who remained is fading.
“They really need our help,” said 31-year-old Sergei Kuzmenko, who, along with his wife, 8-year-old daughter and four others, escaped from the bunker, leaving 30 more. “We need to get them out.”
While they fought back at the plant, Russian forces struggled to make significant progress elsewhere for nearly 2 1/2 months in a devastating war that killed thousands, forced millions to flee Ukraine and leveled large areas of some. cities.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s first Soviet capital with a pre-war population of about 1.4 million, remained the main target of Russian shelling in the northeast. But Western military analysts said Ukrainian forces were making progress in securing positions around the city.
The Washington-based think tank Institute for War Studies said in its latest assessment that the Ukrainian military may be able to squeeze Russian forces “out of the Kharkiv artillery range in the coming days,” giving the city a respite. and the ability to build the defenders ’impetus“ into a successful, broader counteroffensive ”.
In addition, a Russian rocket on Saturday destroyed the Ukrainian National Museum, dedicated to the life and work of the philosopher of the 18th century, according to the local council. He posted photos on Facebook showing the flames of the Grigory Skavaroda Museum.
As evidence of its importance for the cultural heritage of Ukraine, the resemblance of Skovoroda adorns the Ukrainian banknote. The museum in Skavarodynovka is located near the Russian border in the Kharkiv region, where fierce fighting is taking place.
Zelensky said in his night address that the “extraordinary strength of the Ukrainian position” is that all countries of the free world understand that the destructive war is at stake.
“We are protecting ourselves from tyranny that seeks to destroy everything that gives freedom to people and states,” said the Ukrainian leader. “And such a struggle for freedom and against tyranny is perfectly understandable for any society, in any corner of the globe.”
At the United Nations in New York on Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted its first statement on Ukraine, expressing “strong support” for the Secretary-General’s efforts to find a peaceful solution to the 10-week “dispute”.
Negotiations to end the war came to a standstill. On Friday, Zelensky said he would be open to talks with Russia, but only if Moscow withdraws its forces to the position before the invasion.
“In this situation, we will be able to start a normal discussion,” – said Zelensky at a meeting at the London think tank Chatham House. He said that then Ukraine could use “diplomatic channels” to regain its territory.
Gambrel reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Esitsa Fish in Zaporizhia, Inna Varenitsa and David Keitan in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanov in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita Baldor in Washington and AP staff around the world.