Friday, May 6, 2022

Fresh Rescue Efforts Under Way at Ukraine's Azovstal Steel Plant (VIDEO)

 Some news out of Ukraine.

At the Wall Street Journal, "Russia wants to seize the last part of Mariupol by Monday, Ukrainian presidential adviser says":

A third group of civilians was being evacuated from the labyrinth of bunkers beneath Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant Friday, officials said, as Ukraine’s military counterattacked against Russian forces in the east.

For weeks the Mariupol defenders’ dogged stand tied down Russian forces there, reducing the units available elsewhere. Now, Ukraine says it has largely blunted Russia’s offensives in other areas in the east and is hoping to use heavy weapons to push them back.

On Friday, Ukrainian and Russian officials said a total of 50 civilians, including children, were evacuated from the plant during the day. The Russian Ministry of Defense said that the evacuees were handed over to representatives of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross for delivery to temporary accommodations. The evacuation operation at Azovstal will continue on Saturday, the ministry said.

The United Nations said almost 500 civilians were evacuated in two previous operations with its assistance.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the evacuations proceeded slowly because Russia was violating a cease-fire. Moscow has previously repeatedly denied targeting civilians.

The Azov Regiment stationed at the steel plant said one fighter had been killed and six wounded as a car was struck while moving toward some civilians to evacuate them.

Azovstal, a sprawling Soviet-era complex of warehouses, furnaces, tunnels and rail tracks in the southeastern city of Mariupol, has become a focal point in the war in recent weeks. Ukrainian soldiers have continued to hold out as Russia stepped up its bombing of the plant.

Russian ground forces had blockaded Azovstal and assaulted some parts of it in the past 24 hours, supported by warplanes, the Ukrainian General Staff said Friday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday called for Russia to release or exchange those remaining at Azovstal in comments via videolink with Chatham House, the U.K. think tank.

“If they kill people who can be exchanged as prisoners of war or just released as civilians or be helped as wounded or injured, civilian and military alike, if they destroy them, I don’t think we can have any diplomatic talks with them after that,” he said.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said Russia was seeking to seize the last part of Mariupol by Monday, when Moscow celebrates the anniversary of the victory over the Nazis in World War II.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday that the Russians were besieging Azovstal primarily through airstrikes and that the majority of Russian ground forces that had been dedicated to Mariupol had been withdrawn. The Kremlin has declared victory in Mariupol and said it is aiming to seal the remaining defenders in Azovstal until they surrender.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces were counterattacking around the northeastern cities of Kharkiv and Izyum, said Army Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhniy, chief of the Ukrainian General Staff.

Ukraine’s military has pushed Russian troops back to the east of Kharkiv, curbing the shelling of the country’s second-most-populous city. Russia has sought to thrust south from Izyum, which is southeast of Kharkiv, but has encountered stiff Ukrainian resistance.

Gen. Zaluzhniy’s comments, which came after a phone call with the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army Gen. Mark Milley, reflect optimism among Ukrainian officials that Russia’s offensives are running out of steam and that the deployment of heavy weapons systems from the West could turn the tide of the war in the east of the country in the coming weeks.

Other officials cautioned, however, that the counteroffensive was localized.

“Western weapons are not yet arriving at a rate that would allow Ukrainian forces to go on a counterattack,” Mr. Arestovych, the presidential adviser, said late Thursday.

He characterized Ukraine’s capture of some villages in the east around Kharkiv and the south around Kherson, which is occupied by Russia, as small movements that could lead to a broader counteroffensive.

“It’s too early to talk of serious successes,” he said.

President Biden said Friday the U.S. is sending another round of security assistance to Ukraine that will include artillery munitions, radars and other equipment. An administration official said the equipment is valued at up to $150 million. Mr. Biden said the Ukraine funding authorized by Congress is nearly depleted, and he has asked Congress for $33 billion more to fund weapons and provide longer-term economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Russia, meanwhile, claimed that its aircraft hit 24 Ukrainian military assets overnight, including weapons depots and an artillery battery.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that its high-precision air-based missiles had destroyed an ammunition depot in the eastern city of Kramatorsk. The ministry said that Russian forces had shot down two Ukrainian warplanes, an Su-25 and a MiG-29.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said in a commentary Thursday that the Ukrainian counteroffensive “may disrupt Russian forces northeast of Kharkiv and will likely force Russian forces to decide whether to reinforce positions near Kharkiv or risk losing most or all of their positions within artillery range of the city.”

The Ukrainian advances to the east of Kharkiv could develop into a broader counteroffensive, ISW said...