Ukraine: After a cease-fire broke down on Tuesday, Russia launched rockets at an encircled steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine’s last bastion in the port city, with some civilians still trapped beneath the sprawling site despite a UN-brokered evacuation, Russia launched rockets at an encircled steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine’s last bastion in the port city.

 

Hundreds of evacuees, however, were able to flee over the weekend under UN and Red Cross auspices after being trapped for weeks under the Azovstal plant, and have already arrived in the relative safety of Ukraine-controlled Zaporizhzhia.

 

“We had hoped that a larger number of individuals would be able to join the caravan and escape hell.” That is why we have mixed emotions,” said Pascal Hundt of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) via Zoom.

After fleeing the rubble of their home town in southeast Ukraine, where Russia now claims authority, weary-looking individuals, including children and grandparents, clambered off buses.

 

Valentina Sytnykova, 70, said she hid at the facility for two months with her son and 10-year-old granddaughter, saying, “We had said farewell to life, we didn’t think anyone knew we were there.”

 

Since failing to conquer Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in March, Russia has focused its strongest firepower on the country’s east and south.

However, it has also targeted locations considerably further west in an effort to restrict Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea, which is critical for grain and metal exports, as well as hamper Western military backing to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s army.

 

Russia’s defense ministry said on Tuesday that its forces had fired missiles at a military airfield near the port of Odesa, destroying drones, missiles, and ammunition given to Ukraine by the US and its European allies.

“Ukraine’s most glorious hour”

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin increased the economic stakes for Kyiv’s Western backers by declaring measures to stop the export of crucial Russian raw materials, nearly ten weeks into a war that has killed thousands, destroyed cities, and forced five million Ukrainians to flee abroad.

 

The European Union announced fresh sanctions against Russia’s oil industry and banks, as well as plans to replace two-thirds of its Russian gas use by the end of 2022, as part of measures to empty Moscow’s war chest.

 

The US Congress is considering a $33 billion military aid package, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an additional £300 million ($375 million) in aid, which will include electronic warfare equipment and a counter-battery radar system.

Johnson told Ukraine’s parliament via videolink, “This is Ukraine’s finest hour, (one) that will be remembered and recounted for decades to come.” He was channeling Winston Churchill’s words from 1940, when Britain was threatened with invasion and defeat by Nazi Germany.

 

In a phone chat with Putin on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron asked him to order a quick cease-fire in Ukraine and eliminate Russia’s embargo on Ukrainian exports across the Black Sea. Putin stated that Russia remains ready to discussion, according to the Kremlin.

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, called Putin’s policies “imperialistic” and said he would back Finland and Sweden if they opted to join NATO, which both are considering.

 

“No one can assume that the Russian president and administration will not infringe international law with violence on other occasions,” said Scholz, who has been criticized for being too soft on Moscow in the past but has now thrown Germany’s support behind EU measures to prohibit Russian oil imports.

 

According to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, EU countries have paid Russia more than 47 billion euros ($47.43 billion) for gas and oil since the invasion of Ukraine.

 

Putin signed a decree on Tuesday giving Russia’s government 10 days to draft a sanctions list targeting specific people and businesses in “unfriendly” countries.

 

Russia’s $1.8 trillion economy is set to collapse at its fastest rate since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, as it faces some of the harshest sanctions in modern history over its invasion of Ukraine.

“A ferocious onslaught”

According to Osnat Lubrani, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, 101 evacuees from Mariupol arrived in Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday, including young children and elderly.

 

“I can’t believe I made it; we just want to sleep,” said Alina Kozitskaya, who had been hiding in a basement for weeks with her luggage packed, waiting for a chance to go.

 

Mariupol, which had a population of 400,000 before Russia invaded on February 24, has seen some of the deadliest combat of the war, with weeks of siege and shelling. Approximately 100,000 inhabitants remain in the destroyed city.

 

Captain Sviatoslav Palamar of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment said Russia blasted Azovstal with naval and barrel artillery throughout the night and dropped heavy bombs from planes in a Telegram video from the steel facility.

His account could not be independently verified by Reuters. Reuters photos from Monday showed volleys of rockets launched on Azovstal from a Russian truck-mounted launcher.

 

“A massive assault on the grounds of the Azovstal facility is beginning right now,” Palamar stated, adding that armored vehicles, tanks, efforts to land on boats, and a significant number of infantry are on the way.

 

Russia refers to its efforts as a “special operation” aimed at disarming Ukraine and defending it against fascists. The allegations of fascism are unfounded, according to Ukraine and the West, and the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.

 

According to the regional governor, Russian shelling of a coking plant in the city of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine killed at least ten people and injured 15 others on Tuesday. Other districts of Donetsk, according to the Ukrainian president’s administration, have been under persistent fire.

 

Ukraine’s prosecutor general accused Russia of using rape as a war tactic while touring the wrecked village of Irpin near Kyiv on Tuesday. Putin was also dubbed “the main war criminal of the twenty-first century” by Iryna Venediktova.

Russia denies that its forces have targeted civilians and denies that they have committed war crimes.

Nairobi, Kenya, Office

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