© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian soldiers carry bodies of Russian soldiers killed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, before placing them in a refrigerated railway carriage in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 13, 2022. REUTERS / Valentyn Ogirenko TPX TODAY’S PICTURES
By Sergiy Karazy and Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (Reuters) – Very complex talks are underway to evacuate a large number of wounded soldiers from a besieged steelworks in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol in exchange for the release of Russian prisoners of war, said the President of Ukraine.
Mariupol, which has seen the heaviest fighting in almost three months of war, is now in Russian hands, but hundreds of Ukrainian defenders are still holding out at the Azovstal steelworks despite weeks of heavy Russian bombing.
Strong Ukrainian opposition, which analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals did not anticipate when they launched the invasion on February 24, has abated and in some places reversed Russian progress elsewhere in Ukraine.
In addition to losing a large number of men and a lot of military equipment, Russia is also suffering from economic sanctions. The group of seven leading Western economies promised in a statement on Saturday to “further increase economic and political pressure on Russia” and to supply more weapons to Ukraine.
In a speech late at night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke about the plight of people trapped on the site in Azovstal.
“At the moment, very complex negotiations are underway on the next phase of the evacuation mission – the removal of the severely wounded, doctors,” he said, adding that “influential” international intermediaries were involved in the talks.
Russia, which initially insisted that the defenders of the vast Soviet-era bunkers under the steelworks give up, has not said much publicly about the talks.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told local television on Saturday that efforts were now focused on evacuating about 60 people, including the seriously injured as well as medical staff.
The wife of one of the steelworks’ defenders, Natalka Zarytska, appealed to Chinese President Xi Jinping at a briefing in Kyiv on Saturday to “show … great concern for world values and great Eastern wisdom” and help end the siege of Azovstal.
Xi has aligned China with Russia and accuses the West of the war while calling for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Many of those still in the facility are members of the Azov Regiment. Deputy Commander Sviatoslav Palamar said his forces would continue to resist for as long as they could.
“Our enemy, supported by aircraft and artillery … continues to attack our positions but we continue to repel them,” he told an online forum on Friday that was streamed on YouTube.
Moscow’s invasion, which they call a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists, has shaken European security, prompting Finland – which shares a long border with Russia – and most likely Sweden to abandon its long-cherished military neutrality and striving for NATO membership.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, quoted by Russian news agencies on Saturday, said Moscow had no hostile intentions against the two Nordic countries but would take “appropriate precautionary measures” if NATO deployed nuclear weapons and infrastructure closer to Russia’s border.
Russian Su-27 fighter jets have taken part in exercises to avert a false air strike on Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea bordering Poland and Lithuania, Interfax news agency reported on Saturday, referring to the Baltic Fleet.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who spoke with Putin by telephone on Friday, said he had not seen any signs of a change in Russian leaders’ thinking about the conflict.
In an interview with the t-online news website published on Saturday, Scholz also said that Western sanctions against Russia will remain until the country reaches an agreement with Ukraine, adding: “Our goal is for this invasion to fail.”
Foreign ministers from the G7 group of rich nations in Germany supported on Friday to give Ukraine more aid and weapons.
In their statement on Saturday, G7 ministers – from the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada – also promised to “accelerate our efforts to reduce and stop dependence on Russian energy supplies”.
BODIES HAVE Ceased
Despite Ukrainian opposition, Russian forces have made steady progress in southern Ukraine and the eastern Donbas region.
“We are entering a new, long phase of the war,” said Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in a Facebook post (NASDAQ 🙂 and predicted extremely tough weeks when Ukraine would be largely alone against a “furious attacker.”
In its latest bulletin, the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces had hit Ukrainian command posts, ammunition depots and other military equipment in several regions, including the Donbas, and killed at least 100 Ukrainian “nationalists”.
Reuters could not independently verify the report.
In a grim illustration of the strain on Russia’s own forces, Reuters films on Friday showed the bodies of Russian soldiers being taken to a railway station outside Kyiv and stacked with hundreds of others in a refrigerated train, waiting for the time when they can be sent back to their families.
“Most of them were taken from the Kyiv region, there are some from the Chernihiv region and from some other regions as well,” Volodymyr Lyamzin, chief of the civil-military liaison officer, told Reuters as a bearer in white, from head to toe. protective suits lifted body bags into the box cars.
He said that refrigerated trains stationed in other regions of Ukraine were used for the same grim purpose.
Moscow has introduced a military-civilian administration in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region and plans to hold a referendum there on whether to join the Russian Federation, reflecting similar polls held on the adjacent Crimean peninsula in 2014 and in two Donbas regions.
Russia would almost certainly manipulate the outcome of such a vote, Britain’s defense ministry said.
Ukrainian forces have driven out their enemies from the second largest city, Kharkiv, near the Russian border, but Moscow still bombed nearby villages, including Dergachi, about 10 km north of Kharkiv.
“I can not call it anything other than an act of terrorism,” Dergachi Mayor Vyacheslav Zadorenko told Reuters after missiles hit a building used to distribute aid.