Dozens of civilians left a besieged steel mill in the city of Mariupol, Russia said on Sunday, as US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi voiced support for the ‘fight for freedom’ of Ukraine during a visit to Kyiv.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a total of 46 civilians left in two groups on Saturday from the area around the Azovstal plant – the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in the city.
The development has raised hopes for a larger and long-awaited evacuation from the battered factory, where local fighters say they and hundreds of civilians are still sheltering.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video on Saturday evening that kyiv is “doing everything to carry out the evacuation mission from Mariupol”.
Petro Andryushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said on Telegram on Sunday that there would be “radio silence on the evacuation situation”.
Thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced since Russia began its invasion on February 24.
Western powers rushed to send military aid to Ukraine and imposed heavy sanctions on Russia.
“We are visiting you to thank you for your fight for freedom… Our commitment is to be here for you until the fight is over,” Pelosi said during a meeting with Zelensky.
Pelosi also said in a statement that “additional American support is on the way” following President Joe Biden’s announcement last week of a $33 billion arms and support package. euros).
Russian ruble introduced
The conflict is now concentrated in eastern and southern Ukraine, although there have been Russian missile strikes across the country, mainly targeting infrastructure and supply lines.
On Saturday, Ukrainian authorities said a Russian missile strike destroyed the runway at Odessa airport in the southwest of the country.
Near Bucha, the town near kyiv that has become synonymous with Russian war crimes allegations, police reported finding three bodies shot in the head with their hands tied.
The victims were found in a pit and were “brutally killed” by Russian soldiers, police said in a statement.
“The hands of the victims were tied, clothes covered their eyes and some were gagged. There are traces of torture on the corpses,” the statement said.
Ukrainian prosecutors say they have identified more than 8,000 war crimes committed by Moscow troops and are investigating 10 Russian soldiers for alleged atrocities in Bucha.
Russia has denied any involvement in the civilian deaths at Bucha.
Meanwhile, Russia has moved to tighten its grip on areas it controls and on Sunday introduced the Russian ruble to the Kherson region – originally intended to be used alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia.
“From May 1, we will move into the ruble zone,” said Kirill Stremousov, civil and military administrator of Kherson, quoted by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
He said there would be a four-month period when the hryvnia could be used, but then “we will completely switch to ruble settlements.”
“Terrible and relentless fear”
On the eastern front line, Russian troops have advanced slowly but steadily in some areas – aided by heavy use of artillery – but Ukrainian forces have also retaken some territory in recent days, notably around the city from Kharkov.
One of the areas regained from Russian control was the village of Ruska Lozova, which evacuees said had been occupied for two months.
“It was two months of terrible fear. Nothing else, terrible, unrelenting fear,” Natalia, a 28-year-old evacuee from Ruska Lozova, told AFP after reaching Kharkiv.
“We were in the basement without food for two months, we ate what we had,” said Svyatoslav, 40, who declined to give his full name, his eyes red with fatigue.
kyiv has admitted that Russian forces have captured a series of villages in the Donbass region and has asked Western powers to deliver more heavy weapons to bolster its defenses there.
Zelensky said he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday “about defense support for Ukraine and other efforts needed to end the war.”
“I briefed Boris on the current situation on the battlefield in areas of active clashes and in detail on the situation in our east, in Mariupol, in the south of the country,” he said.
“All the leaders of the free world know what Russia did in Mariupol. And Russia will not go unpunished for it.”
Russia has warned Western countries against sending more military aid.
On Sunday, Russia also suggested it could seize Russian assets from countries it deems hostile in retaliation for a US proposal to sell the assets of Russian oligarchs and pay the proceeds to Ukraine.
“With regard to companies based on Russian territory whose owners are citizens of hostile countries and where the decision has been taken” to seize Russian assets, “it is right to take reciprocal measures and confiscate the assets” , said the spokesman of the chamber of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin.
“And the proceeds from the sale of these assets will be used for the development of our country,” he said on his Telegram channel.