The evacuation of the war-torn city of Mariupol in Ukraine is finally safe and residents have been urged to flee to Zaporozhye, 140 miles west, authorities said on Sunday.
“It’s official. Today it is possible to evacuate the civilian population from Mariupol,” the city council said in a statement. “If you have relatives or friends in Mariupol, try to contact them … and say that there is a way to travel to Zaporozhye, where it is safe. We pray that everything will be fine.”
Scores of civilians, including some women and children, were evacuated from and around the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol over the weekend, Russia’s state media outlet Tass reported on Sunday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on social media that 100 people were on their way from the region to Ukrainian-controlled territory.
Up to 2,000 Ukrainian fighters and an estimated 1,000 civilians remain on the perimeter of the facility, the city’s last major stronghold. United Nations humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu said the evacuation 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 supplies. The city council said evacuations of neighborhoods not including the steel mill have been postponed until Monday.
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►Russian troops destroyed or damaged about 250 objects of cultural heritage of Ukraine, said Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko.
►Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday vowed to continue supporting Ukraine with money, aid and arms, saying a pacifist approach to the war was “obsolete”. Officials also said Germany expects to be independent of crude oil imports from Russia by late summer.
►Pope Francis has again called for peace in Ukraine during his traditional midday prayer. Francis, in a now-weekly plea, said he wept when he thought of the destruction of Mariupol and how the city was “barbarously bombed and destroyed.”
►Poland’s armed forces announced on Sunday that weeks of military exercises involving thousands of NATO soldiers have begun in the country.
►Understood by air raid sirens and warnings to take shelter at home, people in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia visited cemeteries on Sunday as Ukrainians celebrated the Orthodox Christian Day of the Dead.
Senate Foreign Relations chief: War ‘is not just about Ukraine’
Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said US support for Ukraine is critical to maintaining international order and preventing American military personnel from being drawn into combat with Russia. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd” Sunday, Menendez said the US would do whatever it takes to ensure Ukraine wins because “it’s not just about Ukraine.”
“If Ukraine doesn’t win, if Putin not only can succeed in Donbass but is encouraged to maybe go further if he attacks a country under NATO, under our treaty obligations with NATO, then we would be directly engaged,” said Menendez. “So preventing Russia from getting to that point is of vital interest both to us and to the world so that we don’t have to send our sons and daughters into battle. And I think our ability not to 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 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv as Ukraine continued to face bombardment by Russian forces on its southern coast and eastern parts of the country.
Pelosi, who is second in line to become President, delivered the latest US demonstration of support for Ukraine. She is the oldest American lawmaker to visit the country since Russia started the war more than two months ago.
The visit came as some women and children were being evacuated from a steel mill in Mariupol and as a Russian missile attack destroyed an airport runway in Odessa, a Black Sea port on Ukraine’s southern border.
Pelosi posted a video on her Twitter account on Sunday showing her shoulder-to-shoulder with Zelenskyy, members of Congress — including Representatives Jim McGovern, D-Mass.; Adam Schiff, D-California; Jason Crow, D-Col.; Barbara Lee, D-California; Gregory Meeks, D-New York and Bill Keating, D-Mass – and other Ukrainian officials.
“We’re here to tell you we’re with you until the fight is over,” Pelosi said in the video.
Thanking Pelosi for the support, Zelenskyy said, “We will win together.”
Pelosi replied, “We are here until victory is achieved.”
Ukrainian ambassador praises Pelosi’s visit
Ambassador of Ukraine to the US Oksana Markarova said the visit of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi symbolized US support for her beleaguered country at a time when President Joe Biden’s US$33 billion aid proposal was on hold -Dollar pending in Congress. The visit came less than a week after Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
“I think it’s another sign of the very, very strong support that Ukraine has here in the United States,” Markarova told ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. “We feel and we know that Americans are our brothers and sisters in this struggle for freedom and democracy.”
After 67 days of resistance to the Russian invasion, Markarova said the world has witnessed war crimes including rape, torture and the siege of Mariupol. She said Russia’s behavior hasn’t changed, although it hasn’t achieved its goals since the 2014 annexation of Crimea or the last attack, which began on February 24.
“We don’t see any change in their behavior yet,” she said. “They are trying to scare Ukraine. They’re trying to scare the world. But the fact and truth is that Ukrainians are not afraid and our President and all Ukrainians bravely defend our country. The world is not afraid.”
Schiff warns ‘terrible toll’ from Putin’s invasion is mounting
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday that during a three-hour discussion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, they reviewed military, economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
“The horrific toll of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression mounts: rocket attacks on major population centers continue, refugees flee for their lives while bodies are heaped in mass graves,” Schiff said in a statement. “Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed or injured, and the entire world is feeling the aftermath of global food shortages and skyrocketing energy prices — all because of Putin’s bloodlust.”
Food shortages in Middle East, Africa a ‘catastrophic impact’ of invasion
Samantha Power, administrator of the US 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 percent of their wheat and grains are dependent . Global food prices are up 34% year-on-year, she said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
“This is just another catastrophic fallout from Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” Power said.
The Russian invasion also disrupted production of sunflower oil in Ukraine, which exported more of it than any other country, leading to restrictions on buying other cooking oils in other parts of the world, the New York Times reported.
Power said the horrors of war were visible in the displacement of millions of refugees and the starvation of people in the siege of Mariupol.
“The (Ukrainian) courage is breathtaking and has inspired the world,” said Power. “These are true horrors being committed right now.”
Ukrainian women trained in clearing land mines
A group of Ukrainian women learn how to identify and defuse explosives, a need prompted by Russian forces leaving booby-traps in the streets of Ukrainian cities. While it is impossible to assess how mine and unexploded ordnance Ukraine is currently riddled with, the aftermath of other conflicts suggests 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 the end of active hostilities. The majority of victims are children,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said at a UN conference in December.
Meanwhile, volunteers from the Territorial Defense Forces learned first aid and combat skills on the battlefield just outside of Lviv on Saturday, the New York Times reported.
Contribution: The Associated Press