Ukraine says Mariupol evacuation thwarted, six killed in Odessa

Sunday, Apr 24, 2022

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine: Ukrainian officials on Saturday accused Russia of thwarting a fresh attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and killing six people in a strike on Odessa, all but burying hopes of a truce for Orthodox Easter.

With the war poised to enter its third month on Sunday, Ukrainian authorities said "fierce battles" were raging in the east and the United Nations said nearly 5.2 million people had fled the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a meeting with Russian counterpart Vladmir Putin "to end the war", which began with a full-scale Russian invasion on February 24.

"I think that whoever started this war will be able to end it," Zelensky said, adding he was "not afraid" to meet the Russian leader. But he again stressed that Kyiv would abandon talks with Moscow if its troops in the besieged port city of Mariupol were killed.

Around 200 residents gathered at an evacuation meeting point announced by Kyiv in Mariupol on Saturday but they were "dispersed" by Russian forces, city official Petro Andryushchenko said on Telegram, adding: "The evacuation was thwarted."

He claimed others had been told to board buses headed to places controlled by Russia. The strategic city has been devastated by weeks of intense Russian bombardment. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk had said earlier that Ukraine would try again to evacuate women, children and the elderly from the city -- pivotal to Russia’s war plans, and which the Kremlin claims to have "liberated".

Ukraine says hundreds of its forces and civilians are holed up inside a sprawling steel plant in Mariupol, and Kyiv has repeatedly called for a ceasefire to allow civilians to exit safely.

But on Saturday a Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovich, said Russian forces had resumed air strikes on the factory.

"Our defenders hold on regardless of the very difficult situation and even carry out counter raids," he said.

Further west, Russia said it had targeted a major depot stocking foreign weapons near Odessa on the Black Sea coast.

"Russian armed forces today disabled with high-precision and long-range missiles a logistics terminal at the military airfield near Odessa where a large batch of foreign weapons delivered by the United States and European countries were stored," the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

Another strike on Odessa killed six people, including a three-month-old baby, Ukrainian officials said, upending the relative calm the city has enjoyed since the beginning of the war.