KYIV/BEZIMENNE — U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged continued U.S. support for Ukraine when she met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv, while Moscow said it had struck at weapons supplied by Western nations in the country’s south.
With fighting stretching along a broad front in southern and eastern Ukraine, some civilians reached the relative safety of a temporary camp in Russian-held territory after being evacuated from the bombed-out ruins of a steelworks in the city of Mariupol.
The strategic eastern port city on the Azov Sea has endured the most destructive siege of the war, with Pope Francis, in an implicit criticism of Russia, telling thousands of people in St Peter’s Square on Sunday it had been “barbarously bombarded.” [nL2N2WT05D
Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
Footage posted by Zelenskiy on Twitter on Sunday showed him, flanked by an armed escort and dressed in military fatigues, greeting a U.S. Congressional delegation led by Pelosi outside his presidential office the previous day.
“Our delegation traveled to Kyiv to send an unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: America stands firmly with Ukraine,” Pelosi, the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, said in a statement.
Western nations have imposed broad economic sanctions on Russia and have been shipping increasing quantities of weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.
Pelosi said on Friday she hoped to pass a $33 billion aid package for Ukraine that President Joe Biden has requested “as soon as possible.”
Russia’s defense ministry said on Sunday it had carried out a missile strike on a military airfield near the port city of Odesa, destroying a runway and a hangar containing weapons and ammunition supplied to Ukraine by the United States and European countries.
On Saturday, Ukraine said Russian missiles had knocked out a newly constructed runway at Odesa’s main airport.
It was unclear if they were referring to the same incident and Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.
Moscow has turned its focus to Ukraine’s south and east after failing to capture Kyiv in the early weeks of a war that has flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee the country.
In Mariupol, Russia declared victory on April 21 even as hundreds of holdout Ukrainian troops and civilians took shelter in the city’s Soviet-era Azovstal steel works, where they have been trapped with little food, water or medicine.
Around 50 civilians arrived at a temporary accommodation center east of Mariupol on Sunday, a Reuters photographer said, in a signal that a deal had finally been reached to allow non-combatants to escape.
The civilians arrived on buses at the village of Bezimenne, around 30 km (18 miles) east of Mariupol, where a row of light blue tents had been set up, in a convoy with United Nations and Russian military vehicles.
Negotiations to evacuate civilians from Mariupol have repeatedly broken down in recent weeks, with Russia and Ukraine blaming each other.
Earlier, Mariupol’s city council and the local governor told residents who wished to leave for the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia to gather at an evacuation point in Mariupol at 4 p.m. local time (1300 GMT).
Russia’s defense ministry said that 46 civilians had left the area around the steel plant on Saturday.
In the east, Moscow is pushing for complete control of the Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists already controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces before the invasion.
On Sunday, Kharkiv region governor Oleh Synehubov warned residents in the north and east of the city of Kharkiv to remain in their shelters due to heavy Russian shelling. Reuters could not immediately verify reports of shelling in the area.
Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, in a post on social media, urged people to evacuate while it was still possible.
Zelenskiy said in a video address on Saturday night that Russia was “gathering additional forces for new attacks against our military in the east of the country.”
Russia’s defense ministry accused Ukraine’s forces of shelling a school, kindergarten and cemetery in villages in the occupied southern Kherson region, the Russian RIA news agency said on Sunday.
The ministry said civilians had been killed and wounded but gave no further details. There was no immediate response from Ukraine and Reuters could not independently verify the report.
Russian forces captured the town of Kherson, 100 km (60 miles) north of Russian-annexed Crimea, in March.
Ukraine’s military said in a bulletin on Sunday that Russian forces were fighting to push north from Kherson to the cities of Mykolayiv and Kryvyi Rih.
(Reporting by Hamuda Hassan and Jorge Silva in Dobropillia, Ukraine, and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Reuters journalists Writing by Rami Ayyub, Clarence Fernandez, Frances Kerry and Alex Richardson; Editing by David Goodman and Alexandra Hudson and Angus MacSwan)
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