Groups of civilians leave a besieged steel plant in Ukraine's Mariupol and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promises to support Ukraine against Russian "bullies", as the conflict enters its 67th day.

The Russian army has refocused its efforts on eastern Ukraine, notably the Donbass region, which incorporates Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Russian army has refocused its efforts on eastern Ukraine, notably the Donbass region, which incorporates Donetsk and Luhansk. (AP)

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Ukraine says it's stalling Russian offensive

The Ukrainian army says that a Russian offensive along a broad front in the country’s east has been stalling amid human and material losses inflicted by Kiev’s forces.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a Facebook post that Russian troops were trying to advance in the Sloboda, Donetsk and Tauride regions, but were being held back by Ukrainian forces that continue to fight village by village.

Separately, Ukrainian intelligence officials accused Russian forces of destroying medical infrastructure, taking equipment and denying medical care to residents in several occupied cities and towns.

Eight dead after Russian strikes in eastern Ukraine

Eight civilians have died following Russian shelling attacks in Donetsk and Kharkiv, the regions' governors said. 

"On May 1, four civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk region, all in Lyman. Eleven other people were injured," regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram. 

Another person had died of his injuries in a town near Lyman, he added. Moscow denies targeting civilians.

Zelenskyy: Around 100 civilians rescued from Mariupol plant 

An initial group of around 100 civilians have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

"The 1st group of about 100 people is already heading to the controlled area. Tomorrow we’ll meet them in Zaporizhzhia," he tweeted, referring to the Ukraine-controlled city 220 kilometres (130 miles) to the northwest. 

"Now they, together with #UN, are working on the evacuation of other civilians from the plant," he said.

Moscow: Some civilians handed over to UN, Red Cross

Some of the civilians evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have been handed over to the United Nations and the Red Cross, the Russian defence ministry has said.

As many as 100,000 people are believed to still be in blockaded Mariupol, including up to 1,000 civilians who were hunkered down with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters beneath the Soviet-era steel plant.

Meanwhile, a plan to evacuate civilians from areas of Mariupol outside of the Azovstal steel works has been postponed to 0500 GMT on Monday, Mariupol's city council has said.

Kiev: Next round of EU sanctions must include oil embargo

Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, says he has told the European Union's top diplomat that the bloc's next round of sanctions must include an oil embargo on Russia.

"I also emphasised there can be no alternative to granting Ukraine EU candidate status. We paid separate attention to further safe evacuation from besieged Mariupol," Kuleba wrote on Twitter after his call with Josep Borrell.

EU leans towards Russian oil ban by year-end, diplomats say

The European Union is leaning toward a ban on imports of Russian oil by the end of the year, two EU diplomats have said, after talks between the European Commission and EU member states this weekend.

The EU is preparing a sixth package of sanctions against Russia. It is expected to target Russian oil, Russian and Belarusian banks, as well as more individuals and companies.

The Commission, which is coordinating the EU response, held talks with small groups of EU countries and will aim to firm up its sanctions plan in time for a meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday.

US official: Russian oligarchs to be targeted in Ukraine package

US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said he will act on a Biden administration request to add provisions to a $33 billion Ukraine aid package to allow the United States to seize Russian oligarchs' assets and send money from their sale directly to Ukraine.

"Ukraine needs all the help it can get and, at the same time, we need all the assets we can put together to give Ukraine the aid it needs," Schumer said at a media briefing in New York City.

Schumer said the provisions being added would streamline the forfeiture process for oligarch-owned properties in the US, while allowing for expedited reviews in federal court, as requested by the White House.

UN conducts evacuation of civilians from Mariupol steel plant

The United Nations is conducting a "safe passage operation" for civilians from the Azovstal steel in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

The operation began on April 29 and is being coordinated with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Russia and Ukraine, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Spokesperson Saviano Abreu said no further details could be released so as not to jeopardise the operation. The evacuation convoy had started on Friday, travelling some 230 kilometres (142 miles) before reaching the plant on Saturday morning.

Moscow: Nearly 50 civilians evacuated from Mariupol steel plant

The Russian defence ministry has said nearly 50 civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant.

"On April 30, following the implementation of a ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor, two groups of civilians have left the residential buildings adjacent to the site of the Azovstal steel plant," the ministry said on Telegram.

"Twenty-five residents left in the afternoon. In the early evening, a second group of 21 people left and were taken to Bezimenne," a village situated halfway between Mariupol and the Russian border. 

Pope says Mariupol 'barbarously bombarded'

Pope Francis has described the conflict in Ukraine as a "macabre regression of humanity" that makes him "suffer and cry", calling for humanitarian corridors to evacuate people trapped in the Mariupol steelworks.

Speaking to thousands of people in St Peter's Square for his noon blessing, Francis, 85, again implicitly criticised Russia.

"My thoughts go immediately to the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city of Mary, barbarously bombarded and destroyed," he said of the mostly Russian-controlled southeastern port city, which is named after Mary.

Fire at Russian military site near Ukraine injures one

One person has been injured in a fire on a Russian defence ministry facility in the southern Belgorod region bordering Ukraine.

Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said a local resident suffered minor injuries and his life was not in danger. There were no immediate comments from the defence ministry. Images posted to social media showed a large funnel of smoke rising above the ground.

Russia last month accused Ukraine of a helicopter attack on a fuel depot in Belgorod—for which Kiev denied responsibility—as well as shelling villages and firing missiles at an ammunition depot.

UK: Russia using troll factory to target Kremlin critics

Russia has turned an old factory in Saint Petersburg into a so-called troll farm to spread disinformation and target Kremlin critics, including world leaders, according to UK government-funded research.

The site in the Russian city is allegedly being used to "spread lies" on social media and in comment sections of popular websites, Britain's foreign ministry said in a statement detailing what it called a "sick" operation.

The ministry, which will share the research with social media platforms, claimed it found paid employees of the troll factory were targeting politicians as well as musicians and bands, in countries including Britain, South Africa and India.

German leader rejects criticism over Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has brushed aside criticism that his government is not doing enough to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s assault.

“I make my decisions quickly—and in coordination with our partners,” Scholz was quoted as saying in an interview published on Sunday by newspaper Bild. “I am suspicious of acting too hastily and Germany going it alone.” Scholz said he wasn’t bothered by opposition claims that he’s too hesitant and timid.

Even though Germany reversed its policy of not sending weapons to countries during a conflict, Scholz has been accused at home and abroad of being hesitant and slow in coming to Ukraine’s aid.

NATO exercises begin along its eastern flank

Poland’s armed forces say military exercises involving thousands of NATO soldiers have begun. They are regular exercises aimed at improving the security of the alliance’s eastern flank but come this year with the Ukraine conflict raging nearby.

Due to those circumstances, Poland’s military appealed to the public on Sunday not to publish information or photos of the columns of military vehicles expected to move through the country in the coming weeks. It warned that “ill-considered activity” could harm the alliance’s security. “Let’s be aware of the dangers!” the statement said.

The Polish Army said 18,000 soldiers from over 20 countries were taking part in the Defender Europe 2022 and Swift Response 2022 exercises that are taking place in Poland and eight other countries. The exercises are scheduled to run May 1-27.

Russia strikes US weapons near Odesa, destroys runway

Russia's defence ministry said it had struck at weapons supplied to Ukraine by the United States and European countries and destroyed a runway at a military airfield near the Ukrainian city of Odesa. 

The ministry said it used high-precision Onyx missiles to strike the airfield after Ukraine accused Russia of knocking out a newly-constructed runway at the main airport of Odesa. 

Odesa regional governor Maksym Marchenko said Russia had used a Bastion missile, launched from Crimea. 

Russia says 46 civilians left area near Azovstal plant

Two groups of civilians left the residential area around the Azovstal steelworks in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Saturday, Russian news agencies cited the defence ministry as saying on Sunday.

The ministry said a total of 46 civilians had left the area and were provided with food and shelter, RIA and TASS reported.

Russia says could seize assets of 'hostile' countries

Russia suggested that it could seize the Russian-based assets of countries it deems hostile in retaliation for a US proposal to sell off Russian oligarchs' assets and pay the proceeds to Ukraine.

"As far as companies based in Russian territory are concerned whose owners are citizens of hostile countries and where the decision has been taken" to seize Russian assets, "it is fair to take reciprocal measures and confiscate assets," said the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin.

"And the proceeds from the sale of these assets will be used for our country's development," he said on his Telegram channel. 

Images show damage to oil depots in Russia

Satellite photos analysed by The Associated Press show damage to oil depots just across the Ukrainian border in Russia after suspected Ukrainian attacks.

The photos from Saturday show damage at two sites in Bryansk. The blasts damaged multiple tanks, leaving the surrounding grounds charred.

The explosions happened Monday. One hit an oil depot owned by Transneft-Druzhba, a subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled company Transneft that operates the western-bound Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline carrying crude oil to Europe.

Russia's Gazprom continues gas exports to Europe via Ukraine

Russian gas producer Gazprom said it was supplying natural gas to Europe via Ukraine on Sunday in line with requests from European consumers.

Requests stood at 97.2 million cubic (mcm) for May 1, up from 71.7 mcm on Saturday.

Civilians evacuated from Mariupol plant, as Russia strikes Ukraine's east, south

Russia has carried out missile strikes across southern and eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian officials said, and some women and children were evacuated from a steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol after sheltering there for over a week.

Russian forces hit Odesa airport, Luhansk and Donetsk with missiles and captured the town of Kherson in the south, giving them a foothold just 100 km (62 miles) north of Russian-annexed Crimea. 

Russia has mostly occupied Mariupol, a strategic eastern port city on the Azov Sea. It declared victory in Mariupol on April 21 even as hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians took shelter in the Azovstal steel works.

Pelosi met with Zelenskyy in Kiev

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has met with Ukraine’s president.

Footage released by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office showed Pelosi in Kiev with a Congressional delegation. Those with Pelosi included Reps. Jason Crow, Jim McGovern and Adam Schiff.

Pelosi later said: “We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom. We are on a frontier of freedom and your fight is a fight for everyone. Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done.” 

Ukraine FM asks China to be security guarantor

Ukraine's foreign minister has asked China to provide security guarantees for Kiev, in a lengthy interview containing some of the most direct criticisms of Moscow recently published by Beijing's state media. 

"Ukraine is currently studying the possibility of acquiring security guarantees from permanent members of the UN Security Council, including China, and other major powers," Dmytro Kuleba was quoted as saying by official news agency Xinhua. 

"We propose that China becomes one of the guarantors of Ukraine's security, this is a sign of our respect and trust in the People's Republic of China." 

Russia eyes long-term control of Ukraine's Kherson

Russia probably aims to exert strong political and economic influence on Ukraine's southern region of Kherson in the long term, after ruling out its return to Ukrainian control and initiating a currency switch to the rouble, Britain said.

"Since seizing ... Kherson in early March, Russia has sought to legitimise its control of the city and surrounding areas through installing a pro-Russian administration," the defence ministry said in a tweet.

Russia's enduring control of the region and transport links will benefit its ability to sustain advances to the north and west and improve its security control of the nearby Crimea, the update added. 

Russian priests condemn Ukraine conflict

Father Georgy Edelshtein is keen to debate those who disagree with his opposition to Russia's military campaign in Ukraine.

"I'd like to see one or two of my opponents sitting right here," the 89-year-old says, pointing to an empty armchair in his living room full of gilded icons.

He explains: "I'm afraid I am a bad priest. I've never been against all wars but I've always been against any land-grabbing, aggressive war." 

Russia: Ukraine shells Kherson, kills civilians

Russia's Defence Ministry has said shelling by Ukraine's forces of villages in the Kherson region has killed and injured civilians, the Russian RIA news agency reported.

The ministry said Ukrainian forces shelled a school, a kindergarten and a cemetery in the villages of Kyselivka and Shyroka Balka. It gave no information on how many people were killed or injured, or when the shelling took place.

There was no immediate response from Ukraine to the report.

Zelenskyy: Russia has lost 23,000 soldiers in 'senseless war'

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has switched to Russian in his nightly video address to urge Russian soldiers not to fight in Ukraine, saying even their generals expected that thousands of them would die.

"The occupiers are gathering additional forces for new attacks against our military in the east of the country. They brought reinforcements to the Kharkiv region, trying to increase pressure in Donbass. They have lost more than 23,000 soldiers in the battles of this senseless war for Russia. But they do not stop."

"The Russian command is well aware that thousands more Russian soldiers will be killed and thousands wounded in the coming weeks. But why do the Russian soldiers need this? Why do their families need this? Russian commanders lie to their soldiers when they say that they have some serious penalties for refusing to fight. And at the same time they do not tell them, for example, about the preparation of additional refrigerators for storage of corpses by the Russian army."

Azov Regiment: 20 civilians evacuated from Mariupol

Some women and children were evacuated from a steel plant that is the last defensive stronghold in the bombed-out ruins of the port city of Mariupol, a Ukrainian official and Russian state news organizations said, but hundreds are believed to remain trapped with little food or water.

A top official with the ultra-nationalist group, Azov Regiment, the Ukrainian unit defending the plant, said 20 civilians were evacuated during a ceasefire, though it was not clear if he was referring to the same group. There was no confirmation from the UN.

“These are women and children,” Sviatoslav Palamar said in a video posted on the regiment’s Telegram channel. He also called for the evacuation of the wounded, “We don’t know why they are not taken away and their evacuation to the territory controlled by Ukraine is not being discussed.”

UK: Russia's 'troll farms' spread misinformation

The British Foreign Office has said Russia is using a troll factory to spread disinformation about the conflict in Ukraine on social media and target politicians across a number of countries including Britain and South Africa.

"We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war," Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

"The UK Government has alerted international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations."

Russia says the Western media have provided an excessively partial narrative of the war that largely ignores Moscow's concerns about the enlargement of NATO and what it says is the persecution of Russian speakers in Ukraine, something denied by Kiev.

For live updates from Saturday (April 30), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies