Friday saw the rescue of dozens more civilians from the tunnels below the steel mill, where Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol were making their last stand against Moscow's total takeover.
Officials from Ukraine and Russia claimed that 50 people were evacuated by the Azovstal plant. They were then handed over to the representatives of the United Nations or the International Committee of the Red Cross. According to the Russian military, 11 children were part of this group.
Russian officials and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minster Iryna Vereshchuk stated that evacuation efforts will continue on Saturday. These evacuees are in addition to approximately 500 civilians who have been evacuated from the city and plant in recent days.
In the midst of growing speculation that President Vladimir Putin may be trying to end the battle for Mariupol to present a victory to the Russian people just in time for Monday's Victory Day (the biggest patriotic holiday in Russia), the fight for Ukraine's last stronghold seemed increasingly desperate.
Ukraine was preparing for an increase in Russian attacks as the holiday to commemorate the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany came near. Officials urged residents to be aware of the warnings about air raids.
Yevhen Yenin, Ukraine's first deputy interior Minister, stated that "these symbolic dates are to Russia like red to a bull." "While the whole civilized world remembers those who died in terrible wars on these dates, the Russian Federation wants parades. They are preparing to dance over the bones at Mariupol."
According to Russia's latest estimate, around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are trapped in the maze of tunnels, bunkers, and steelworks beneath Azovstal. They have refused to surrender, according to the Russian estimates. Before Friday's evacuations, Ukrainian officials stated that only a few hundred civilians had been trapped in the maze of tunnels and bunkers beneath the Azovstal steelworks. Their safety has been questioned as the fighting intensifies.
Kateryna Prokopenko's husband Denys Prokopenko commands the Azov Regiment troops at the plant. She made a desperate plea for the soldiers to be spared. She stated that they would be willing go to third countries to end the war, but would not surrender to Russia as it would lead to "filtration camps, prisons, torture, and death."
She said that if nothing is done to save her husband, and his men they would "stand to the finish without surrendering," to The Associated Press Friday.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, stated that "influential States" are involved with efforts to rescue soldiers. However, he didn't name any.
He said that diplomatic options are being explored to save Azovstal's troops in his nightly video address.
Officials at the U.N. have not been forthcoming about civilian evacuation plans, but it appeared likely that the latest evacuatees would be taken by Zaporizhzhia (a Ukrainian-controlled city located 140 miles (230 km) northwest of Mariupol, where other evacuees were brought.
Several of the former evacuees from the plant spoke with the AP about their horrors at being trapped in an underground bunker without food or water. They also described the lack of medical care and the diminishing prospects for survival. Some felt guilty for abandoning others.
Serhii Kuzmenko (31 years old) said that people literally rot like their jackets. He fled from his bunker with his wife and 8-year-old daughter, along with four other survivors. They need our help very badly. They need our help to get out."
The plant defense fighters claimed that Russian troops had attacked an evacuation vehicle located on the grounds of the plant. The soldiers claimed that the car was heading towards civilians when it was struck by shelling. One soldier was killed, six others were injured.
Moscow didn't immediately accept renewed fighting in the area on Friday.
After bombarding Mariupol for two months, Russia took control. Municipal workers and volunteers cleared the remaining city of its prewar population of over 400,000 before Victory Day. There are still around 100,000 civilians living there, with limited access to food, water and electricity. People swept the streets in front of hollowed out buildings as bulldozers gathered debris. Russian flags were raised.
Ukraine would lose a crucial port if Mariupol falls. It would allow Russia to create a land corridor to Crimea Peninsula, which it took from Ukraine in 2014. Some Russian troops could also be freed to fight in other parts of the Donbas, an eastern industrial area that the Kremlin claims is its main objective. The city's capture has symbolic significance as it was the site of some of the most horrific sufferings of wartime and a fierce resistance.
They pounded at the plant while the Russian forces failed to make significant gains elsewhere. This was 10 weeks into a terrible war that has claimed the lives of thousands, forced millions of people to flee, and decimated large swathes of cities.
Officials in Ukraine warned that the danger of heavy shelling was increasing ahead of Victory Day. Vitali Klitschko, Kyiv's Mayor, said that authorities will increase street patrols in the capital. In Ukraine's southern Odesa, the region that was hit by two missile attacks on Friday, a curfew was in effect.
According to the general staff of Ukraine's military, its forces have repelled 11 attacks in Donbas and destroyed tanks and armored cars. This further frustrates Putin's ambitions following his failed attempt to seize Kyiv. Russia did not acknowledge the losses.
According to the Ukrainian army, it also claimed that it had made significant progress in the northeastern Kharkiv area. It retook five villages and a part of one sixth. One person was killed and three others were injured in the Russian bombardment of Lyman in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk.
Other developments Friday
Ukrainian Army Brigade claimed it used an American Switchblade suicide drone against Russian forces. This was most likely the first known use of such a weapon in combat.
U.S. President Joe Biden approved the shipment of $150 million more in military aid to Ukraine for radar systems and artillery rounds. Biden stated that the new spending shows that his administration has "nearly exhausted," what Congress had authorized for Ukraine in March. Biden urged lawmakers to approve a spending package of more than $33Bn that will continue through September.
Ukrainian Governor of Eastern Luhansk Region said that Russian troops were terrorizing residents of Kreminna as they tried to cross the Seversky Donnets River. Serhiy Haidai claimed that Russian troops had "forcefully disappeared" Ukrainian patriots and checked their phones. His statements were not immediately confirmed.
Haidia also stated that more than 15,000 people still live in Severodonetsk in the Luhansk Region, which is considered a major Russian target. He stated that he believed most residents want to stay, even though "entire blocks are on fire".
According to Vyacheslav Gladkov, the regional governor of Russia, Nekhoteevk was being evacuated because of shelling from Ukraine. However, his claims were not immediately confirmed.