ZAPORIZHZHIA, UKRAINE (REUTERS) – Russia unleashed rockets on Tuesday (May 3) on an encircled steel works in Mariupol, Ukraine’s last redoubt in the port city, after a ceasefire broke down with some civilians still trapped beneath the sprawling site despite a UN-brokered evacuation.
Scores of evacuees who did manage to leave under United Nations and Red Cross auspices over the weekend after cowering for weeks under the Azovstal plant reached the relative safety of Ukraine-controlled Zaporizhzhia.
More than 200 civilians remain in the plant, according to Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko, with 100,000 civilians still in the city that has been devastated by weeks of Russian siege and shelling.
Weary-looking people, including children and the elderly, clambered off buses after escaping the ruins of their home town in south-east Ukraine where Russia now claims control.
“We had said goodbye to life. We didn’t think anyone knew we were there,” said Valentina Sytnykova, 70, who said she sheltered in the plant for two months with her son and 10-year-old granddaughter.
Fresh Russian attacks in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region killed 21 civilians and injured 27 on Tuesday, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
He said the figure, which included 10 dead at a coking plant in the town of Avdiivka reported earlier, was the highest daily death toll in the region since an attack on a railway station in Kramatorsk last month that killed more than 50 people.
Russia has turned its heaviest firepower on Ukraine’s east and south after failing to take Kyiv, the capital, in a drive to limit Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea, vital for its grain and metal exports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of breaching agreements to pause fighting long enough to allow vulnerable civilians to be moved to safety, even the UN-coordinated operation at the steel works in Mariupol.
“They’re still fighting. They’re still bombarding and shooting. So we need some ceasefire. We need a breather,” Zelensky said via video link at a Wall Street Journal event..
Moscow has also struck targets much farther west to disrupt supplies of Western military aid to Zelensky’s forces.
On Tuesday Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had struck a military airfield near the port of Odesa with missiles destroying drones, missiles and ammunition supplied to Ukraine by the United States and its European allies. Ukraine said three missiles targeted the Odesa region and all were intercepted.