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Slow Progress In Evacuations From Mariupol As EU Ministers Discuss Oil Embargo

By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service May 02, 2022

The evacuation of civilians from Ukraine's devastated southern port city of Mariupol has stalled as Russia resumed shelling the Azovstal steel plant where hundreds remain holed up a day after a first group left the underground bunkers.

A group of around 100 Ukrainian civilians left the Mariupol on May 2 for the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhya, some 230 kilometers away, according to the authorities and video released by the two sides.

Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov told the BBC that the evacuees were making slow progress and would probably not arrive on May 2 as hoped. Authorities gave no explanation for the delay.

Orlov said high-level negotiations were under way among Ukraine, Russia and international organizations on more evacuations.

If successful, the evacuation would mark rare progress in easing the plight of the Mariupol civilians. Previous attempts to open safe corridors out of the besieged Sea of Azov port and other places have broken down.

Mariupol's strategic location near the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has made it a target for Russian bombardments that have turned the city, which had a prewar population of some 400,000, into ruins.

A maternity hospital was hit in a Russian air strike in the first days of the invasion, and hundreds of people were reportedly killed in the bombing of a theater.

As many as 100,000 people may still be in Mariupol, including an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters beneath the sprawling Azovstal complex, the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.

Thousands are believed to have been killed and those still holed up in the besieged Azovstal complex were running out of water, food, and medicine.

"The situation has become a sign of a real humanitarian catastrophe," Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion on February 24, its troops have failed to completely take over any major Ukrainian city.

On the battle front, a British intelligence estimate said on May 2 that Russia's elite forces have suffered such large casualties that it will take years to replenish them. It said more than 25 percent of Russia's invading force has been disabled since the start of the conflict.

In its daily bulletin, Britain's Defense Ministry said that at the start of the invasion on February 24, Russia had committed more than 120 battalions representing some 65 percent of its entire ground-combat capabilities.

"It is likely that more than a quarter of these units have now been rendered combat ineffective," it said, adding that some of its best units, including its airborne forces, have suffered the highest casualties.

"It will probably take years for Russia to reconstitute these forces," the British intelligence report said.

Ukraine, meanwhile, announced the temporary closure of its four main seaports after losing control of them to Russian forces or having them blockaded.

The Agriculture Ministry said in a statement on May 2 that the seaports of Berdyansk, Mariupol, Skadovsk, and Kherson will be closed "until Ukraine regains control over" them.

After encountering surprisingly staunch resistance in the north around the regions of Kyiv and Chernihiv, Russia withdrew its forces to redeploy them in the south and east where fighting has intensified in recent days.

Ukraine's east and south are seen as key strategic goals for Russia, allowing it a land link to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Moscow raised fears those goals may stretch further, to Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, which is backed by Russia and borders Ukraine to the southwest along the Dniester River. Moldova also borders NATO-member Romania.

Early on May 2, authorities said a Russian rocket strike hit a main bridge across the Dniester estuary just west of the port city of Odesa.

European Union ministers met in Brussels to discuss a response to Russia cutting gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria and plans for a possible oil embargo to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine.

But the ministers also discussed a potential embargo of Russian oil while acknowledging the economic impact of such a move. EU diplomats have said that the bloc is leaning toward a ban on Russian oil by the end of the year as part of a sixth package of sanctions against Russia.

In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz again appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his war against Ukraine.

"Stop this war, stop the senseless killing, withdraw your troops from Ukraine," he said on May 2 after meeting in Berlin with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Scholz also said that Putin will not see sanctions lifted without reaching a peace agreement with Ukraine, adding that the aim must be that Russia's readiness to use violence does not succeed.

Modi said dialogue was the only way to a reach a solution.

"We believe that there will be no winner in this war, everyone will lose. We are in favor of peace," said Modi, who did not take questions after reading from prepared statements.

Modi, whose government procures most of its military hardware from Russia, has called for a cease-fire but resisted Western calls to condemn the Kremlin's actions.

U.S. First Lady Jill Biden will visit Romania and Slovakia on May 5-9 to meet U.S. service members and embassy personnel, Ukrainian refugees, humanitarian aid workers, and teachers, her office said on May 2.

NATO and EU members Romania and Slovakia have taken in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.

The UN's refugee agency reported on May 2 that more than 5.5 million people had fled Ukraine since the war began on February 24.

On the diplomatic front, Israel on May 2 summoned Russia's ambassador and demanded an apology from Moscow after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that Adolf Hitler had Jewish roots.

Lavrov was asked during an interview with an Italian television channel on May 1 how Russia could claim that it needed to "de-Nazify" Ukraine when the country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was Jewish.

"When they say, 'What sort of Nazification is this if we are Jews,' well, I think that Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it does not mean anything," Lavrov told Italy's Rete 4, speaking through an Italian interpreter.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Yair Lapid said the Russian ambassador would be summoned for "a tough talk" over the comments, which he called "unforgivable and scandalous and a horrible historical error."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, BBC, and dpa

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-mariupol-evacuations- russia-invasion/31830222.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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