Civilians, especially women and children, remain trapped within Ukraine’s besieged city of Mariupol, and a long-term cease-fire is needed to ensure their evacuation as Russia continues its assault, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Russia has intensified attacks on Ukraine’s east and south after failing to conquer the capital Kyiv in the early weeks of a war that has killed thousands and leveled cities.
At least 25 civilians were wounded, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of Donetsk’s eastern district, after Russian forces shelled Kramatorsk, a town 180 kilometers (112 miles) west of Luhansk.
After weeks of siege and shelling, Moscow declared victory over Mariupol on April 21, but stubborn resistance from Ukrainian forces holed up in the Azovstal steelworks has stopped Russia from entirely encircling the city.
Mariupol is a primary Russian goal since it is crucial to Moscow’s aspirations to shut Ukraine off from the Black Sea, which is crucial for food and metal exports, as well as to link Russian-controlled territory.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from Mariupol and other regions this week by the UN and the Red Cross. However, Ukrainian officials claim that 200 people, as well as Ukrainian fighters, are still holed up in a network of subterranean bunkers at the Azovstal factory.
Russia has promised to halt military activities at Azovstal for the day on Thursday and for the next two days to allow civilians to leave. In a speech delivered early in the morning, Zelensky stated that Ukraine was prepared to ensure a cease-fire in Mariupol.
“Just getting them out of those basements, out of those underground bunkers, will take time.” We can’t utilize heavy equipment to clear the rubble because of the current conditions. “Everything must be done by hand,” Zelensky explained.
Ukrainian fighters engaging Russian troops inside Azovstal are fighting “tough, brutal combat,” according to Denis Prokopenko, a commander with Ukraine’s Azov army. Russian forces were alleged to be inside the plant, according to a Ukrainian MP.
According to UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine Osnat Lubrani, some 300 civilians were evacuated from Mariupol and other towns in southern Ukraine on Wednesday as part of a joint UN-Red Cross operation.
It was unclear whether more UN evacuations were in the works. Tetyana Trotsak, a Ukrainian evacuee who arrived in a Ukraine-controlled town this week with dozens of others, expressed concern for people still trapped within the steel mill.
“May God forbid further rounds hit near the civilian bunkers,” Trotsak remarked.