Russia expels seven Danish embassy staff in tit-for-tat move

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At least 50 Ukrainian civilians were evacuated from the beleaguered Azovstal steelworks amid the ruins of Mariupol, even as Russia continued to batter the strategic port city, Ukrainian officials said.

“Today we were able to evacuate 50 women, children and elderly people from Azovstal,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on May 6 on her Telegram channel.

Vereshchuk added that, in the face of the Russian attacks, “the evacuation was extremely slow…tomorrow morning we will continue the evacuation operation.”

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The United Nations has rushed to broker a deal to help evacuate some of the 200 civilians who are holed up with around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters at the massive Azovstal steelworks, one of the largest in Europe.

Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of disrupting an agreed evacuation process by shooting at vehicles attempting to ferry people out of the plant.

Russia confirmed around 50 people had been evacuated but did not comment on Ukrainian allegations of attacks on those leaving.

Throughout the day, Russian forces continued their assault on the sprawling steel plant against Ukrainian fighters holding on to it.

The Ukrainian General Staff said in its May 6 daily assessment that the Russians were using aircraft in the new assault on the plant.

“There are a lot of wounded, but they don’t surrender,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on May 5. “They hold their positions.”

Mariupol itself was largely leveled by weeks of street-to-street fighting and heavy shelling. Azovstal has become a last bulwark for Ukrainian troops struggling to prevent a complete defeat of the city by the Russians.

Zelenskiy said that if Russian forces killed civilians or soldiers who might otherwise be freed, his government would hold no further peace talks with Moscow.

He said there was virtually nothing left of the once thriving port city, only “this little lawn, this little structure, the Azovstal Steelworks, or what’s left of it”.

The fight for Azovstal also comes amid speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants a battlefield triumph he can showcase on May 9, when Russia marks VE Day, the anniversary of the defeat. of Nazi Germany.

“Russia’s renewed efforts to secure Azovstal and complete the capture of Mariupol are likely linked to the upcoming May 9 VE Day commemorations and Putin’s desire for token success in Ukraine,” the UK ministry said. of the defense. mentioned in its daily assessment of May 6.

“This effort has cost Russia personnel, equipment and ammunition. As Ukrainian resistance continues in Azovstal, Russian casualties will continue to build and frustrate their operational plans in southern Donbass,” it said. the Ministry.

Losing Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port on the Sea of ​​Azov. It would also give Russia the chance to establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula and free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbass.

Ukrainians locked in the labyrinthine tunnels and industrial infrastructure of Azovstal posted videos and photographs on social media, appealing to the international community.

Soldiers are “dying in pain” for lack of proper care, Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Battalion, said in a May 5 video address. He pleaded for international aid to evacuate injured civilians and combatants.

Andriy Yermak, one of Zelenskiy’s top advisers, said on May 6 that nearly 500 civilians had been evacuated from the Azovstal town and factory as part of a United Nations-led effort.

“The next stage of rescuing our people from Azovstal is underway right now. Information on the results will be provided later,” Yermak said. said in a message on Telegram May 6. kyiv “will do everything to save all its civilians and soldiers”.

The fighting comes as Russia continues its offensive in eastern Donbass, an offensive that has been slow and without major advances as Ukrainian forces have blocked Russian moves and even regained territory.

Ukrainian forces are increasingly equipped with heavy artillery and powerful anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry provided by NATO members.

Germany, which is under pressure at home and abroad to increase its supplies of equipment, said on May 6 that it would supply seven self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine after reversing its policy of not sending heavy weapons in war zones.

Earlier, Berlin announced that it would also send “Gepard” anti-aircraft systems.

The Donbass offensive came after a thwarted campaign by Russian forces north of kyiv in the first weeks of the war. The withdrawal of Russian troops from places like Bucha, near kyiv, has led to a cascade of witness reports that claim Russian units committed atrocities that could amount to war crimes.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said on May 6 that there was compelling evidence that Russian troops had committed war crimes, including extrajudicial executions of civilians, while occupying an area outside the Ukrainian capital in February and March. Civilians also suffered abuses such as “reckless shooting and torture”, says the group.

Russian troops committed “a host of apparent war crimes” in Bucha, including “numerous unlawful killings”, most of them near the intersection of Yablunska and Vodoprovidna streets, according to the report.

With reports from the Ukrainian service of RFE / RL and the AP

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