The metallurgical plant is the last stronghold of Russia’s resistance in the city, and soldiers and civilians are stuck in a large complex.

ZAPOROZHYA, Donetsk Oblast – The first group of civilians trapped for weeks inside a Russian-besieged metallurgical plant in Mariupol is expected to arrive in a Ukrainian-controlled city on Monday as a new attempt was made to allow people to escape. city, leave.

A video posted by Ukrainian forces on the Internet on Sunday shows elderly women and mothers with young children moving through a steep pile of rubble from the sprawling metallurgical plant Azovstal and eventually getting on a bus.

If successful, the evacuation would be a rare step forward in reducing the human costs of the nearly 10-week war, which It caused special suffering in Mariupol. Earlier attempts to open safe corridors outside the port city on the Sea of ​​Azov and elsewhere have failed. People who have fled Russian-occupied areas in the past have said their cars have come under fire, and Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Russian forces of shelling coordinated evacuation routes.

At least some of the people evacuated from the plant appear to have been taken to a Moscow-backed separatist-controlled village, although Russian state media have reported that they will be allowed to continue Ukrainian-held territory if they wish. In the past, Ukrainian officials blamed Moscow troops on the forced relocation of civilians from the occupied territories to Russia; Moscow has said people want to go to Russia.

More than 100 civilians are expected to arrive in Zaporizhia on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday.

“Today, for the first time in all the days of the war, this vital green corridor has started working,” Zelensky said in a pre-recorded address published on his Telegram channel.

While the official evacuation often faltered, many people managed to escape from Mariupol on their own. Anastasia Dembitskaya took advantage of a brief ceasefire around the evacuation of civilians from a metallurgical plant to leave with her daughter, nephew and dog.

She told the Associated Press that she saw the steel plant from her window when she dared to look out.

“We saw rockets flying” and clubs of smoke over the plant, she said.

She said she had to pass many checkpoints on the way to Zaporozhye and waited 18 hours near the city before being let through.

Like many Mariupol residents, Dembitskaya and her family survived while cooking on a homemade stove and drinking well water under almost constant bombardment.

“I got scared, then got used to it,” said her 14-year-old daughter Vladislav.

A defender of the metallurgical plant said Russian forces resumed shelling of the plant on Sunday as soon as civilians were evacuated.

Denis Schlega, commander of the 12th Operational Brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine, said in a televised interview Sunday night that several hundred civilians were still trapped next to nearly 500 wounded soldiers and “numerous” bodies.

“Several dozen young children are still in the bunkers under the plant,” Schleg said.

Mariupol may still house up to 100,000 people, including about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters under a large Soviet-era steel plant, the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.

The siege of Mariupol from the first days of the war detained civilians with limited access to food, water, medicine and electricity. At the beginning of the conflict, a Russian air strike struck the maternity hospital, and hundreds of people were reportedly killed in the bombing of the theater.

A city with a pre-war population of more than 400,000 people is a key target for Russia, because its capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allowing Moscow to create a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it captured in Ukraine in 2014. , and release troops for hostilities elsewhere in the Donbas, which is now the focus of Russia.

A Ukrainian metallurgical plant officer has called on groups such as the UN and the Red Cross to also ensure the evacuation of wounded fighters at the plant, although he acknowledged that reaching out to some of the wounded is difficult.

“There is rubble. We do not have special equipment. It is difficult for soldiers to raise a ton of weapons only with weapons, ”Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment, said in an interview to the AP. “We hear the voices of people who are still alive” inside the destroyed buildings.

The representative of the UN humanitarian organization Saviana Abreu said that civilians arriving in Zaporozhye, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) northwest of Mariupol, will receive immediate support, including psychological. The Doctors Without Borders team was waiting for a UN convoy at the city center for displaced persons.

In his nightly address Sunday, Zelensky accused Moscow of waging a “war of destruction”, saying Russian shelling affected food warehouses, grain and fertilizer warehouses, as well as residential areas in Kharkiv, Donbas and other regions.

More than 350,000 people have been evacuated from combat zones thanks to humanitarian corridors previously agreed with Moscow, he said, adding that “the organization of humanitarian corridors is one element of the ongoing negotiation process.”

In Zaporozhye, residents ignored air raid sirens to visit the cemetery on Sunday, the Orthodox Day of the Dead.

“If our dead could be resurrected and see it, they would say, ‘This is impossible, they are worse than the Germans,'” said Gennady Bondarenko, 61, celebrating the day with his family at a picnic table among the graves. “All our victims joined the battle, including the Cossacks.”

Meanwhile, Russian troops have launched a major military operation to capture Donbass, Ukraine’s eastern industrial center, after failing to capture Kyiv.

The full picture of the battle unfolding in eastern Ukraine is difficult to grasp. The fighting makes it dangerous for journalists to move, and both sides have imposed tough restrictions on reports from the combat zone.

Western officials say Russia is slowly advancing in the eastern offensive and has seized some villages, but inflicts significant civilian casualties through indiscriminate bombing. Ukrainian troops are fighting their offensive from village to village, and civilians are fleeing air strikes and artillery shelling.

The UK Ministry of Defense said at a daily briefing on Monday that it believes that more than a quarter of all combat units deployed by Russia in Ukraine are now “combat ineffective” – ​​unable to fight due to loss of troops or equipment.

The British military believes that since February, Russia has drawn more than 120 so-called “battalion tactical groups” into the war, which is 65% of Moscow’s total combat power.

The Ukrainian military said Monday it had destroyed two small Russian patrol boats in the Black Sea. Footage from the drone published on the Internet shows what the Ukrainians described as two Russian Raptor boats that exploded after a missile strike.

The AP was unable to immediately confirm the strike on its own.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid went to Ukraine during the war, but Russia’s vast arms depots mean that Ukraine still needs mass support. Zelensky appealed to the West for more weapons and tougher economic sanctions against Russia.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other U.S. lawmakers visited Zelensky on Saturday to demonstrate U.S. support.

EU energy ministers met on Monday to discuss a new set of sanctions, which could include restrictions on Russian oil, although Russian-dependent bloc members from 27 countries, including Hungary and Slovakia, fear taking harsh measures.

Varenitsa reported from Ukrainian Kiev. Associated Press journalists Esica Fish from Sloviansk, John Gambrel and Yuras Karmanov from Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv and AP staff around the world contributed to the report.

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