All women, children and the elderly have been evacuated from the Mariupol steel works plant besieged by Russian forces, according to Anna Chernikova, a VOA reporter in Kyiv.
The Soviet-era steel mill of Azovstal, the last holdout in Mariupol for Ukrainian forces, has emerged as a symbol of resistance to the wider Russian effort to capture swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine in the 10-week-old war, Reuters reports. Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, wrote on the Telegram messaging app "this part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation is over."
The United Nations, which is leading the rescue effort along with the International Red Cross, is not confirming that the operation has ended.
“The UN is on the ground, with our colleagues from ICRC, working on a safe passage operation agreed with the parties to the conflict. This includes Azovstal and other areas around Mariupol. The U.N. will give more details of the operation once it is concluded,” said Saviano Abreu, spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Russians try again to take Azovstal
Reuters reports that while under heavy bombardment, fighters and civilians had been trapped for weeks in deep bunkers and tunnels that crisscross the site, with little food, water or medicine.
Russian forces backed by tanks and artillery tried again Saturday to storm Azovstal, Ukraine's military command said, part of a ferocious assault to dislodge the last Ukrainian defenders in the strategic port city on the Sea of Azov.
Mariupol has been left in ruins by weeks of Russian bombardment, and the steel mill has been largely destroyed. Several groups of civilians have left the sprawling complex over the past week during pauses in fighting.
WHO records war crime evidence
The World Health Organization (WHO) is gathering evidence for a possible war crimes investigation into attacks it says it has documented by Russia on health care facilities in Ukraine, it said in Kyiv on Saturday.
Reuters reports that WHO Emergencies Director Mike Ryan, on an unannounced visit with WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a news conference it was the explicit responsibility of warring parties to avoid attacking health facilities, yet the WHO had documented 200 attacks on hospitals and clinics in the country.
"Intentional attacks on health care facilities are a breach of international humanitarian law and as such — based on investigation and attribution of the attack — represent war crimes in any situation," Ryan said.
"We continue to document and bear witness to these attacks ... and we trust that the U.N. system and the International Criminal Court and others will take the necessary investigations in order to assess the criminal intent behind these attacks."
Russia has denied previous accusations by Ukraine and Western nations of possible war crimes and has also denied targeting civilians in the war.
Ryan said the 200 cases did not represent the totality of attacks on Ukrainian medical facilities, only those the WHO had verified. Kyiv has said there have been around 400 such attacks since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's armed forces Saturday released footage said to show a Russian landing ship being destroyed near Snake Island.
The Ukrainian army said a Ukrainian drone, a Bayraktar TB2, destroyed the Russian ship.
Satellite images taken early Saturday by Planet Labs PBC showed what appeared to be a Serna-class landing ship near Snake Island's northern beach.
That corresponds with the video released by the Ukrainian military said to show a drone striking it, engulfing the vessel in flames.
The video also claims to show buildings on the island that had been destroyed in a barrage of drone attacks by Ukrainian forces.
Striking Snake Island would impede Russia's efforts to control the Black Sea.
Missiles hit Odesa
Six missiles hit the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Saturday, a representative for Ukraine’s southern military command told the country's public broadcaster.
Ukrainian officials have warned the country’s residents that the battles with Russian troops are likely to intensify this weekend, in the lead-up to Russia’s Victory Day celebrations Monday, commemorating the 77th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
The holiday is celebrated across Russia with military parades.
“Since Russian troops cannot boast of any significant achievements on the front by Victory Day, the risk of massive shelling of Ukrainian cities these days is increasing,” the officials wrote on Facebook.
Ukraine has warned its citizens to take cover when they hear air raid sirens and to avoid large gatherings because of the expected uptick in Russian attacks.
Russia's most senior lawmaker on Saturday accused Washington of coordinating military operations in Ukraine which he said amounted to direct U.S. involvement in military action against Russia.
"Washington is essentially coordinating and developing military operations, thereby directly participating in military actions against our country," Vyacheslav Volodin wrote on his Telegram channel.
Washington and European members of the transatlantic NATO alliance have supplied Kyiv with heavy weapons to help it resist a Russian offensive that has resulted in the occupation of parts of eastern and southern Ukraine but failed to take Kyiv.
However, the United States and its NATO allies have repeatedly said they will not take part in fighting themselves to avoid becoming parties to the conflict.
Reuters reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin will send a “doomsday” message to the West on May 9.
A Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said Friday that Russia has no intention of deploying tactical nuclear weapons to Ukraine.
“Russia firmly abides by the principle that there can be no victors in a nuclear war, and it must not be unleashed,” Alexei Zaitsev said.
Jill Biden in Europe
U.S. first lady Jill Biden is visiting Slovakia during her four-day visit in Eastern Europe to show support for U.S. troops and Ukraine. During her visit at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, the first lady praised the Romanian government and relief organizations for their work in helping refugees fleeing the Russian invasion in neighboring Ukraine, calling the efforts "amazing." Jill Biden heard heartbreaking stories from Ukrainian women and children who fled Russia’s war. After visiting Romania, she will head to Slovakia, where on Sunday, she will meet with displaced Ukrainian families.
The White House said Friday that U.S. President Joe Biden and other G-7 leaders will have a virtual meeting Sunday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The United Nations Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution Friday in support of a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine, the first such statement from the Security Council since Russia invaded Ukraine February 24.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Press and Reuters.