ZAPORIJIA, Ukraine (AP) — Women and children have been evacuated from a steel plant that is the last defensive redoubt in the bombed-out ruins of the port city of Mariupol, while U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the Ukrainian president in the country’s capital in a show of American support.
Ukrainian forces were fighting village by village the Russian offensive on the southern coast of Ukraine and the industrial heartland in the east of the country. More and more civilians are fleeing air and artillery attacks, as the war reaches their doorstep.
Thousands of people were believed to remain trapped in the fenced off Mariupol without enough food, water or medicine. After several failed attempts, the United Nations was working to negotiate an evacuation of up to 1,000 civilians held with some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters at the sprawling Soviet plant in Azovstal, the only part of Mariupol not occupied by Russian forces.
Images released by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office on Sunday showed Pelosi in kyiv with a congressional delegation that included Reps. Jason Crow, Jim McGovern and Adam Schiff. The visit was not announced in advance.
“We think we visited you to thank you for your fight for freedom,” Pelosi, second in line to the US presidency after the vice president and the highest-ranking official to visit Ukraine since 2015, said later. start of the war.
“We are on a border of freedom and their fight is a fight for everyone. Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is over, “said the official.
Pelosi’s office did not say where the meeting took place, but lighting on the video and other details suggested it took place on Saturday. Congressmen Barbara Lee and Bill Keating were in the delegation, according to authorities, although it was not clear if they had traveled to kyiv.
The delegation was scheduled to offer a press conference on Sunday in the Polish town of Rzeszow.
Russian forces have launched a major military operation to seize significant parts of southern and eastern Ukraine after their bid to seize the capital failed. Mariupol is a major target due to its strategic location near the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said on Saturday that 19 adults and six children had left the Azovstal steelworks, but gave no further details.
A senior member of the Azov Regiment, the Ukrainian unit defending the plant, said 20 civilians had been evacuated during a ceasefire, although it was not clear if he was referring to the same group. The United Nations did not confirm the report.
The United Nations humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu explained that the organization is negotiating with authorities in Moscow and kyiv, although he could not give details about the efforts “due to the complexity and fluidity of the operation.”
“Right now there are high-level contacts underway with all governments, Russia and Ukraine, to make sure we can save civilians and support the evacuation of civilians from the plant,” Abreu told AP. The spokesman declined to confirm video footage shared on social media purportedly showing identified UN vehicles in Mariupol.
Ukraine has attributed the failure of numerous evacuation attempts to constant Russian attacks.
In the town of Lyman in the Donetsk region, where at least half the population has fled Russian bombing, some 20 elderly people and children clutched bags, their dogs and cats to board a minibus bearing a sign that read “ evacuation of children” in Ukrainian. The vehicle left at high speed towards the city of Dnipro, while distant explosions were heard.
“The liberators have come and they have liberated us, from what? Of our lives?” said Nina Mihaylenko, a professor of Russian language and literature, referring to the Russian forces.
Galina Zuev and her husband, Aleksander, decided to stay, reluctant to leave the place where they have spent their entire lives.
“I don’t live very well. Here is a war. They attack all the time. The windows of our house have burst. There are missiles in the gardens,” said Galina, 68. “It’s scary.”