International efforts to save Ukrainian civilians from the shattered remains of Mariupol intensified Saturday, as a fragile cease-fire allowed about 20 women and children to escape the now-ruined Azovstal steel plant for a convoy into western Ukraine.
“As of now, it’s the truth, both sides follow the cease-fire regime,” said Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar of the Azov Regiment, one of Mariupol’s last Ukrainian defenders.
The Red Cross and United Nations helped broker the pause, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko told the BBC – because the non-combatants huddled in bunkers beneath the plant are “on the borderline between life and death.”
“It’s difficult to say how many days or hours we have to save their lives,” Boychenko said, estimating that about 600 of the 1,000 women and children still at the plant have been injured.
New satellite images show flattened buildings within the plant, with large holes punched in the roofs of any structure left standing, according to Maxar Technologies.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government warned that the 100,000 civilians still living in Mariupol’s rubble now face mortal danger from a new threat: disease.
“Powerful and deadly epidemics could soon break out in the city – due to the lack of centralized water supply and sanitation, the decomposition of thousands of corpses under the rubble, and a catastrophic shortage of water and food,” the Ukrainian Parliament posted on Twitter .
The “medieval living conditions” imposed by the Russian invaders will soon cause deadly outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, and other infections, the Ukrainians said.
Beyond Mariupol, Ukrainian authorities raised the specter of starvation for those remaining in Russian-held areas – because occupying forces are stealing massive stores of grain.
“Today, there are confirmed facts that several hundred thousand tons of grain in total were taken out of the Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” Taras Vysotsky, Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister, said.
In Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke with France’s recently re-elected President Emmanuel Macron, who pledged “to work actively during his second term of office to restore the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” according to a statement from the Elysee Palace.
Macron vowed that French shipments of military supplies and humanitarian aid “will continue to grow” as the “unbearable” attacks on Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities grind on.
Separately, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres briefed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who has hosted peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv in recent weeks – on the progress of the rocky negotiations.
Meanwhile, occupied areas of Ukraine are showing increasing signs of overt Russification, as the invading forces push to erase all vestiges of Ukrainian identity.
A supermarket in Melitopol announced that it was reopening Saturday under new – Russian – management, CNN reported, while in the town of Tokmak, a man in a cherry picker wrenched the Ukrainian coat of arms off the front of the mayor’s office.
In Nova Kakhovka and other towns, statues of Vladimir Lenin – founder of the Soviet Union – are being restored to places of honor.
“The Russians are trying to annihilate the Ukrainians,” Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady, told the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita. “And it doesn’t matter what they say, because their words do not match their deeds.”
Russian forces spent Saturday pounding Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, but have so far failed to capture several strategic locations, Ukraine’s military said.
The Russians have failed to capture Lyman in Donetsk and Sievierodonetsk and Popasna in Luhansk. “Not succeeding – the fighting continues,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces missive said.
But a Russian attack on Odessa’s civilian airport destroyed its runway, Ukraine’s southern defense forces said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of undercutting the peace effort by continuing to send advanced military hardware to Ukraine.
“Progress has not been easy,” he told Chinese state television — blaming “the bellicose rhetoric and inflammatory actions of Western supporters of the Kyiv regime” for the stalemate.
Lavrov said his country had evacuated over 1 million people from Ukraine since the war began, but offered no evidence to support his claim.
With Post Wires