Ukrainians plead for rescue of Mariupol, slow down Russian advance | world news

By MSTYSLAV CHERNOV and YESICA FISCH, Associated Press

KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces battled Saturday to delay a Russian advance aimed at capturing an eastern industrial region as well as Ukraine’s last stronghold in the southern town of Mairupol, where fighters and Civilians hiding under a heavily damaged steel mill endure harrowing conditions.

The United Nations continued to try to negotiate an evacuation of civilians from the sprawling Soviet-era factory and other bombed-out ruins of Mariupol, a port city that Russia has sought to capture and subjected to heavy bombardment. since it invaded Ukraine more than nine weeks ago. .

There are up to 1,000 civilians in the Azovstal steelworks, according to Ukrainian officials, who did not say how many fighters remained in the only part of Mariupul not occupied by Russian forces. The Russians estimated the number of Ukrainian soldiers at the plant at around 2,000.

Video and footage shared with The Associated Press by two Ukrainian women who said their husbands were among the fighters there showed injured men with stained bandages needing to be changed; others had open wounds or amputated limbs.

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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 shared by the women, the injured men, who are not identified, tell the camera that they eat once a day and share as little as 1.5 liters (50 ounces) of water a day between four . Supplies inside the blockade are running out, they said.

The AP could not independently verify the date and location of the footage, which the women say was taken last week in the maze of passageways beneath the steel mill.

A shirtless man spoke with obvious pain as he described his injuries: two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a dislocated arm that “hung from the flesh”.

“I want to tell everyone who sees this. If you don’t stop it here, in Ukraine, it will go further, in Europe,” he said.

– 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 that “progress has not been easy”.

– A former US Marine was killed while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces, his family said, in what would be the first known death of an American in combat. The United States has not confirmed the report.

– Two buses heading to the eastern Ukrainian town of Popasna to evacuate residents were fired upon and contact with the drivers was lost, Mayor Nikolai Khanatov said.

– Russian Air Defense Forces detected a Ukrainian military aircraft over the Russian region of Bryansk and attempted to repel the aircraft. Two shells fell on a village, regional governor Alexander Bogomaz said. No one was injured, but an oil terminal sustained damage, Bogomaz said.

Getting a full picture of the battle unfolding in the east has been difficult as airstrikes and artillery barrages have made it extremely dangerous for journalists to travel. Ukraine and Moscow-backed rebels fighting in the east have also introduced strict restrictions on reporting from the combat zone.

But Western military analysts have suggested that Moscow’s offensive in the eastern Donbass region, which includes Mariupol, is proceeding much more slowly than expected. So far, Russian troops and separatist forces that Moscow has backed in the region since 2014 appear to have made only minor gains in the month since Moscow said it would concentrate its military force in the east from Ukraine.

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.

Partly because of the tenacity of the Ukrainian resistance, the United States believes that the Russians are “at least several days behind what they wanted to be” as they attempt to surround Ukrainian troops in the is, said a senior US defense official who spoke conditionally. from anonymity to discuss the U.S. military’s assessment.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense offered a similar conclusion in its Daily War Assessment, saying it believed Russian forces in Ukraine were likely suffering from “weakened morale”, as well as a lack of skills at military level. unity and “incoherent air support”. She did not specify on what basis she made the assessment.

With plenty of firepower still in reserve, Russia’s promised 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 than Ukraine and possesses tactical nuclear weapons.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged this in his evening speech.

“If the Russian invaders succeed in carrying out their plans, at least in part, they will still have enough artillery and aircraft to destroy all of Donbass. Just like they destroyed Mariupol,” he said.

“The city, which was one of the most developed in the region, is just a Russian concentration camp among the ruins,” Zelenskyy said.

In Mariupol, around 100,000 people are believed to still be in the city with little food, water or medicine. UN spokesman Farhan Haq said the organization was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and kyiv to create conditions for safe passage.

Ukraine has blamed the failure of many previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian shelling.

For those in a 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 were in the steelworks as part of the Azov regiment said they feared the soldiers would be tortured and killed if left behind and captured by the Russians. They called for a Dunkirk-style mission to evacuate fighters, a reference to the World War II operation launched to rescue Allied troops surrounded in northern France.

“We can do this extraction operation … which will save our soldiers, our civilians, our children,” said Kateryna Prokopenko, 27, speaking to the AP in Rome. “We have to do it now, because people – every hour, every second – are dying.”

The Azov regiment that helps defend the steelworks has its roots in the Azov Battalion, formed in 2014 by far-right activists at the start of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russian officials have referred to the regiment’s past while attempting to justify its activities in eastern Ukraine.

Despite the intensity of the fighting in the east, some Ukrainians have tried to return to the besieged region, going against the tide of the nearly 5.5 million people who have fled the country since the Russian invasion.

” Everything is here. Our roots are there,” a 75-year-old man intending to cross the frontline from Zaporizhzhia with his wife to his home in Donetsk. “Even people from Mariupol want to go back.”

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

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