The evacuation of Ukraine’s war-battered city of Mariupol is finally safe and residents are urged to flee to Zaporozhye, 140 miles to the west, authorities said Sunday.
“It’s official. Today it is possible to evacuate the civilian population from Mariupol,” city council said in a statement. “If you have relatives or friends in Mariupol, try to contact them … and say that there is an opportunity to travel to Zaporozhye, where it is safe.
“We pray that everything will work out.”
Scores of civilians, including some women and children, were evacuated over the weekend from in and around the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, the Russian state-run Tass media outlet reported Sunday. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on social media Sunday that a group of 100 people are on their way from the area to Ukrainian-controlled territory.
Up to 2,000 Ukrainian fighters and an estimated 1,000 civilians remain in and around the plant, the last major holdout in the city. U.N. humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu said the evacuation of the plant area involved the International Committee of the Red Cross in coordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials.
It’s unclear how many civilians remain in Mariupol, trapped with little food, water or utilities. City council said evacuation of city districts that don’t include the steel plant has been postponed until Monday.
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►Russian troops have destroyed or damaged about 250 objects of the cultural heritage of Ukraine, said Oleksandr Tkachenko, Minister of Culture and Information Policy.
►German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged Sunday to continue to support Ukraine with money, aid and weapons, saying a pacifist approach to the war is “outdated.” Officials also said the country expects to be independent of crude oil imports from Russia by late summer.
►Pope Francis, speaking during his traditional noontime prayer, again appealed for a peace in Ukraine. Francis, in what has become a weekly plea, said he weeps thinking of the destruction of Mariupol and how the city has been “barbarously bombed and destroyed.”
►Poland’s armed forces said Sunday that weeks-long military exercises involving thousands of NATO soldiers have begun in the country.
►Undeterred by air raid sirens and warnings to shelter at home, people in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia visited cemeteries Sunday, when Ukrainians observed the Orthodox Christian day of the dead.
►Actress Angelina Jolie made a surprise visit to displaced people in Lviv, Ukraine, on Saturday, the Lviv regional governor said on Telegram. Jolie has been a United Nations special envoy for refugees since 2011.
Senate foreign relations chief: War ‘is not just about Ukraine’
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said U.S. support for Ukraine is critical to maintaining international order and for keeping American service members from being dragged into combat with Russia. Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd,” Menendez said the U.S. will do whatever it takes to ensure Ukraine wins because “it is not just about Ukraine.”
“If Ukraine does not win, if Putin can not only succeed in Donbas but then be emboldened to maybe go further, if he strikes a country under NATO, under our treaty obligations with NATO, then we would be directly engaged,” Menendez said. “So stopping Russia to getting to that point is of critical interest to us as well as the world so that we don’t have to send our sons and daughters into battle. And I think our ability to not send our sons and daughters into battle is priceless”
Pelosi meets with Zelenskyy in Kyiv
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation that met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv as Ukraine continued to weather bombardment by Russia military forces on its southern coast and eastern parts of the country.
Pelosi, second in line to succeed the president, provided the latest U.S. show of support for embattled Ukraine. She is the most senior American lawmaker to visit the country since Russia launched the war more than two months ago.
The visit came as some women and children were evacuated from a steel plant in Mariupol and as a Russian rocket attack destroyed an airport runway in Odesa, a Black Sea port on Ukraine’s southern border.
Pelosi posted a video to her Twitter account Sunday that showed her standing shoulder to shoulder with Zelenskyy, members of Congress – including representatives Jim McGovern, D-Mass., Adam Schiff, D-Calif.; Jason Crow, D-Colo., Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; Gregory Meeks, D-New York and Bill Keating, D-Mass. – and other Ukrainian officials.
“We are here to say to you that we are with you until the fight is over,” Pelosi said in the video.
Zelenskyy thanked Pelosi for the support, saying “we’ll win together.”
Pelosi responded: “We are here until victory is won.”
Ukraine ambassador lauds Pelosi visit
Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit symbolized U.S. support for her besieged country at a time when President Joe Biden’s $33 billion aid proposal is pending in Congress. The visit came less than a week after Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
“I think it’s yet another sign of very, very strong support that Ukraine has here in the United States,” Markarova Markarova told “ABC This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “We feel and we know that Americans are our brothers and sisters in this fight for freedom, for democracy.”
After 67 days of resistance to the Russian invasion, Markarova said the world has witnessed war crimes of rapes, torture and the siege of Mariupol. She said Russian behavior hasn’t changed, despite failing to meet its goals from its 2014 invasion or the latest attack that began Feb. 24.
“We do not see the change in their behavior yet,” she said. “They are trying to scare Ukraine. They are trying to scare the world. But the fact and the truth is that Ukrainians are not afraid and our president and all Ukrainians are bravely defending our country. The world is not afraid.”
Schiff warns ‘horrific toll’ of Putin’s invasion is mounting
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday that a three-hour discussion with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reviewed military, economic and humanitarian assistance Ukraine needs.
“The horrific toll of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression is mounting: missile strikes continue against large population centers, refugees are fleeing for their lives, while bodies are piled in mass graves,” Schiff said in a statement. “Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed or injured, and the entire world is feeling the reverberations of a global food shortage and skyrocketing energy prices – all due to Putin’s bloodlust.”
Food shortages in Middle East, Africa a ‘catastrophic effect’ of invasion
Samantha Power, administrator of U.S. Agency for International Development, said a broader concern from the war in Ukraine is food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, where countries rely on Ukraine for 80% to 90% of their wheat and grain. Global food prices are up 34% from a year ago, she said on “ABC This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
“It is just another catastrophic effect of Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” Power said.
She said the horrors of war are visible in the displacement of millions of refugees and the starvation of people in the siege of Mariupol.
“The courage is breathtaking and has inspired the world,” Power said. “Those are true horrors being perpetrated right now.”
Ukrainian women trained to clear land mines
A group of Ukrainian women is learning how to identify and defuse explosives, a need brought about by Russian forces leaving booby traps behind in the streets of Ukraine’s cities. While it is impossible to assess how littered with mines and unexploded ordnance Ukraine is at the moment, the aftermaths of other conflicts suggest the problem will be huge.
“In many parts of the world, explosive remnants of war continue to kill and maim thousands of civilians each year during and long after active hostilities have ended. The majority of victims are children,” the International Committee of the Red Cross testified at a December U.N. conference.
Meanwhile, just outside Lviv on Saturday, volunteers in the Territorial Defense Forces were learning battlefield first aid and combat skills, The New York Times reported.
Contributing: The Associated Press