Women, children and the elderly were all evacuated on Saturday from the Azovstal Steelworks, the last hotbed of resistance in the devastated city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian authorities fear the Russian offensive could resume with renewed vigor across Nazi Germany on March 9.
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Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who says he cannot afford to lose in Ukraine, is “confident that he will make progress through increased efforts,” said the director of America’s largest intelligence agency, the CIA, Bill Burns .
However, there is no “concrete evidence” that Russia, which put its deterrent forces on high alert shortly after the start of its military intervention, “is preparing for the use or even the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in this conflict,” he said.
“The order of the President (Volodymyr Zelenskyy) was carried out: all women, children and old people were evacuated from Azovstal. This part of the humanitarian mission in Mariupol has been completed,” announced Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.
On Friday, 50 people, again the most vulnerable civilians, were able to exit the huge steel complex.
According to Kyiv, these operations, which have been taking place for a week under the aegis of the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have enabled almost 500 people to flee.
Bombing from south to northeast
However, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced on Saturday that “the enemy has not stopped its offensive” and is “blocking” the defenders of the Azovstal district in particular.
Ukrainian army staff assured that Russian forces had again attacked this factory the day before, despite the ceasefire they unilaterally declared for three days on Thursday.
Mariupol, a southeastern port city that had a pre-war population of nearly 500,000, was almost entirely wiped off the map by two months of Russian bombardment.
In the southwest, airfields in the regions of Artsyz near Romania, Odessa, the large Ukrainian port city on the Black Sea, and Voznesensk north of Mykolaiv were attacked, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday evening.
In the northeast, mobile Iskander missile systems “destroyed large quantities of weapons and military equipment supplied by the United States and other Western countries” at the Krasnograd and Karlovka railway stations, not far from Kharkiv, he continued.
Strikes were also reported around Donetsk (east) on Saturday, killing four people and injuring nine, according to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
The Russians have made limited territorial gains over the past 24 hours around Severodonetsk, one of the key locations in Donbass that is still in Ukrainian hands, but this should not result in a full encirclement, noted the American Institute of Study of War ( ISW) fixed.
Conversely, the Ukrainian counter-offensive in Kharkiv to push Ukraine’s second-largest city out of range of enemy artillery gained momentum with the capture of several Russian positions, still according to the ISW.
“The Ukrainian armed forces are regaining ground in a wide arc around Kharkiv and are no longer focused on a limited advance, but are demonstrating the ability to launch offensive operations on a larger scale than previously in this war,” the institute said.
So much so that the Russian army had to blow up three road bridges in the region “to slow down the counter-offensive,” according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.
The Ukrainian Navy, meanwhile, claims to have destroyed a Russian landing ship with a combat drone developed in Turkey 100 kilometers from Odessa, not far from the tiny Snake Island.
Information that Russia has not confirmed and claims to have sunk “the Ukrainian attack boat “Stanislav””.
More generally, in a report, the British Ministry of Defense assessed that the conflict was “damaging the most capable Russian units”.
Tightening of strikes?
As May 9 approaches, Ukrainian authorities expect Russian attacks to intensify.
“Don’t ignore air alerts and go to emergency shelters immediately, the threat of bombing is very likely in all regions of Ukraine,” Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said on Friday, adding that there will be no commemorations of the 1945 victory in the Ukrainian capital become .
“The enemy is trying to finish off the Azovstal defenders, they are trying to do it before May 9 to give Vladimir Putin a gift,” warned Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Zelenskyy.
Russia has only been able to claim complete control of one major city, Kherson.
On Saturday, the Russian army held the final rehearsals before the traditional May 9 military parade on Red Square in Moscow in the presence of soldiers who took part in the offensive in Ukraine.
On the brink of that war, authorities in Moldova’s pro-Russian separatist region of Transnistria announced on Saturday that four explosions had taken place in a village bordering Ukraine the night before, but without causing any casualties.
Fears that Ukraine’s conflict could spill over into Transnistria have grown in recent weeks after a Russian general revealed that one of Russia’s aims was to establish a corridor to the small territory.
China is following the conflict “closely”
For her part, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, on Saturday, after a four-day visit to Kyiv and the surrounding area, denounced the “staggering” violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Russian army in Ukraine.
Since the outbreak of hostilities, there have been a total of “200 attacks on health facilities” in this country, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, complained to the press in Kyiv.
On the western sanctions front, difficult negotiations were underway between the 27 EU member states to reach an agreement this weekend on a plan to halt Russian oil imports, which Hungary has so far blocked.
Furthermore, Germany announced that the leaders of the major powers of the G7 would hold a virtual meeting on the war in Ukraine on Sunday, which Volodymyr Zelenskyy had to attend.
It must be said that Africa, for example, is facing an “unprecedented” crisis caused by the current situation in Ukraine, particularly with rising food and fuel prices, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
China is following the conflict “closely” and will likely learn from it to adjust its plans to conquer Taiwan, CIA Director Bill Burns said on Saturday.