Live updates from Ukraine: 3,000 civilians escape besieged city of Mariupol

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The most ambitious effort yet to evacuate desperate civilians from Ukraine’s devastated port of Mariupol, besieged by Russian forces for weeks, was rocked by disruptions on Friday, with thousands of residents managing to flee but many others are still stranded after the Red Cross deemed the exodus too dangerous. .

The suspended evacuation of the Red Cross in Mariupol, a city that has become a symbol of the horrors of war in Ukraine, was among several developments painting a mixed picture on Friday as one of the biggest armed conflicts to shake the Europe for decades has erupted into its sixth week. .

New signs emerged that Russian forces, thwarted by their own sloppy planning and fierce Ukrainian resistance, were withdrawing from areas outside kyiv, the capital, and moving north. The Ukrainians claimed to have regained control of more than two dozen suburban towns and hamlets.

Ukrainian helicopter gunships struck an oil terminal inside Russia, Russian officials said – which, if confirmed, would be the first known Ukrainian airstrike on Russian territory since the 24 February.

Such an attack would be both embarrassing and potentially provocative for Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in his troubled military campaign to subjugate Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have given conflicting information on whether Ukraine was responsible.

Credit…Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters

And in Chernobyl, the toxic former nuclear site in northwest Ukraine which Russia seized at the start of the war, Russian vehicles apparently kicked up radiation dust as they drove away, said the United Nations’ top nuclear official. Whether Russian soldiers or others there suffered radiation poisoning remained unclear.

There had been some early optimism that a large-scale organized evacuation of Mariupol – a thriving port of 450,000 people that was wiped out by Russian shelling and bombs – could be undertaken on Friday under the auspices of the Cross- Red, after the Russian Defense Ministry approved a temporary ceasefire.

Several thousand civilians have been trapped in the city for weeks under constant Russian bombardment with limited access to food, water and electricity. Previous attempts at humanitarian pauses in the fighting have repeatedly failed.

According to some estimates, three-quarters of Mariupol’s population have fled, and about 100,000 people remain.

A Red Cross team that was on its way to Mariupol on Friday to escort buses and cars carrying civilians had to turn back because conditions were not guaranteed to ensure safe passage, the ministry said. organization in a press release. He said the team, made up of three vehicles and nine staff, would try again on Saturday.

“For the operation to succeed, it is essential that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees,” the Red Cross statement said.

Credit…Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters

The Red Cross expected about 54 buses, along with an unknown number of private vehicles, to take part in an evacuation convoy carrying thousands of people.

While the larger convoy failed on Friday, smaller groups of people were able to drive out of town, according to local officials. On Friday afternoon, Iryna Vereshchuk, the Deputy Prime Minister, confirmed in a statement on her Telegram page that a corridor had been opened from Mariupol to the city of Zaporizhzhia by private transport.

Around noon on Friday, Pyotr Andryuschenko, the adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said buses left for nearby Berdyansk.

At the end of the day, it was still unclear how many people from Mariupol had left. But Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on his Telegram account that around 3,000 people managed to escape on Friday and more than 3,000 were evacuated from other towns.

The Russians signaled a week ago that they might withdraw their forces from kyiv and other parts of northern Ukraine and recalibrate their objectives in the war, as it became increasingly clear that their army was malfunctioning. and that the Kremlin’s expectations of a quick victory were misguided.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Western officials and analysts were initially skeptical, suspecting the Russians were simply repositioning and resupplying for further attacks. While that may still be true, the Russian withdrawal from the Kyiv region after more than a week of Ukrainian counterattacks appears to be real, these officials and analysts said, based on Ukrainian military accounts of recaptured towns and cities. other signs, including social media videos and satellite images, pointing to a Russian retreat.

“The counterattacks probably prompted Russia to abandon kyiv,” said Frederick W. Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “The counterattacks demonstrated that the Russians were in fact not going to be able to hold the positions they held anyway.”

Mr Zelensky, in his daily video address early Saturday morning, accused Russian forces in northern Ukraine of laying mines as they retreated, making it dangerous for people to return.

Even though Russian forces are withdrawing from Kyiv and northern regions, “in the east of our country the situation remains extremely difficult,” he said. “The Russian soldiers are accumulating in the Donbass, in the direction of Kharkiv. They are preparing for new powerful blows. We are preparing for an even more active defense.

His claims about the mines could not be independently verified.

Mr. Zelensky’s video messages galvanized support among Ukraine’s allies, but his new address had an ominous tone, vaguely threatening to Ukrainians cooperating with Russian invaders.

“The responsibility of collaboration is inevitable,” he said.

The Friday morning helicopter assault on Russian territory took place in Belgorod, which is part of a staging area for the Russian invasion about 20 miles from Ukraine’s eastern border. Previously, the Ukrainian military had only managed to strike Russian territory with ground-launched missiles, and Russia had boasted that the Ukrainian air force had been “virtually destroyed” in the Russian assaults. .

A video posted on VKontakte, a Russian social media site, and verified by The New York Times, shows two helicopters firing at the oil depot east of the city. Although it was not possible to determine the nationality of the plane, the images confirmed that an airstrike had caused a fire at the site. Another aftermath video showed the depot burning until late in the day.

Credit…Russian Ministry of Emergencies, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ukrainian officials were initially evasive about whether Ukrainian forces had carried out the assault, but a senior security official, Oleksiy Danilov, issued what amounted to a denial, saying: “This does not correspond to reality “.

It was unclear if or how Russia intended to react on Friday night, but the attack did not seem to bode well for diplomacy to stop the war. Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, told reporters that such attacks “reflect the true intentions of the Ukrainian side and the true intentions of peace talks.”

Concerns about possible radiation exposure from Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where a 1986 meltdown caused the worst radiation accident in history, resurfaced Friday in remarks by Rafael Mariano Grossi , the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear agency monitor. The Russians took control of the Chernobyl region last month and withdrew this week.

While Mr Grossi told a news conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna that radiation levels had not changed at the plant, he said heavy military vehicles had stirred up the contaminated soil when Russian forces first invaded the area, “and apparently it could have been the case again on the way out.

Mr Grossi said he was aware of reports that some Russian servicemen had been poisoned by radiation while holding the Chernobyl power plant, but the subject had not come up in the interviews he had. he held in Russia with nuclear officials.

Credit…Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Outside of Ukraine, countries that have sought to penalize Russia by banning purchases of Russian oil took further steps on Friday to protect themselves from the economic shock of rising oil prices caused by the cut in supply. .

The International Energy Agency, a 31-member group from oil-consuming nations, said they had agreed to a further release of emergency oil reserves in what is turning into a historic effort and to large scale to calm global markets.

The move came a day after the Biden administration announced a six-month release of 180 million barrels from the US-held strategic reserve.

Megan Specia reported from Krakow, Poland, Anton Troyanovsky from Istanbul, Matthew Mpoke Bigg of London and Julian E. Barnes from Washington. The report was provided by Carlotta Gall from Kyiv, Ukraine; Ivan Nechepurenko from Istanbul; Josh Holder and Stanley Roseau from London; Lazaro Gamio from Washington; and Denise Lu and Richard Perez-Pena from New York.

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