A new UN convoy is due to arrive in Mariupol on Friday to evacuate the last civilian refugees at the Azovstal steelworks, the latest hotbed of resistance in this Port of Donbas in southeastern Ukraine.
The mission coincides with Russia’s announcement of a three-day truce starting Thursday to allow the departure of civilians trapped in that industrial complex, although Ukrainian troops denounce that it is being breached.
Despite this uncertainty, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths announced on Thursday the dispatch of a convoy to this city besieged by Russian troops since almost the beginning of the invasion.
“There is a convoy on its way to Azovstal to arrive tomorrow morning in the hope that we can get the civilians who are still there, in that grim hell they’ve been in for several weeks,” Griffiths said.
Over the weekend, an evacuation organized by the UN and the Red Cross rescued a hundred civilians. On Wednesday, another 344 people were evacuated from the industrial compound, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
But local authorities say there are still about 200 civilians trapped in the steel mill’s network of underground corridors, where the latest Ukrainian defense units are also resisting.
The information from the place is contradictory. While the Kremlin says humanitarian corridors “are working” and that the truce is being respected, Zelensky said Late Thursday that Russian forces continue to attack the factory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he “remains willing” to ensure a “safe” evacuation of civilians, but urged Kiev to order militants still at the plant to “lay down their arms.”
– Offensive braked –
After more than two months of siege, Russian troops control almost all of Mariupol, a sea-by-Azov city of nearly 500,000 inhabitants before the war in southern Donbas.
Its total seizure would be an important victory for Russia before May 9, the day on which it celebrates with a large military parade in Moscow’s Red Square its victory against Nazi Germany in 1945.
In addition, at a strategic level, this city would consolidate the connection between the occupied territories in eastern Donbas with the annexed Crimean peninsula in the south.
Since the start of the invasion on February 24, Moscow has only been able to claim full control of one major city, Kherson, in the south, near Crimea.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged thursday that Western support for Kiev had halted its offensive against Ukraine.
“The United States, the United Kingdom, NATO as a whole permanently share information with the Ukrainian armed forces. Combined with the arms deliveries … these actions do not allow the operation to be concluded quickly,” he told reporters.
Peskov made the remarks after The New York Times published that the information offered by Washington to Kiev has allowed several Russian generals to be shot down, a report denied Thursday by the Pentagon.
These actions, Peskov said, “have no capacity to prevent” Russia’s objectives in this war that, after 10 weeks, has caused thousands of deaths and has caused the exile of more than five million people.
– Fundraising –
On the diplomatic front, Western countries continue to increase their pressure on Russia, subject to an unprecedented series of sanctions.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, spoke in favour of confiscating frozen Russian assets in the European Union within the framework of these sanctions in order to contribute to the reconstruction of Ukraine.
For his part, Zelensky launched a global fundraising campaign through a global platform. “In one click, you can donate funds to help our defenders, save our civilians and rebuild Ukraine,” he said.
In addition, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the raising of more than 6 billion euros ($6.3 billion) for that country at a donor conference in Warsaw.
The war was also present at the UN Security Council, where several countries and the organization’s secretary-general called for an end to the violence, although without referring to currently stalled peace negotiations.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a violation of its territorial integrity and the Charter of the United Nations,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.