Russia-Ukraine war: Russia continues assault on Azovstal plant in likely attempt to capture Mariupol for upcoming Victory Day, UK says – live – The Guardian

Shaun Walker

Shaun Walker

Shaun Walker, our central and eastern Europe correspondent, reports for us today on how Victory Day became central to Putin’s idea of Russian identity:

The rhetoric of victory and of fighting Nazis, which has become gradually more twisted over the past two decades, plays a role. Of course, it takes a particular mindset to look at Russia’s expansionist war, with the executions, targeting of civilians, filtration camps and harassment of dissidents at home, and come to the conclusion that it is the Ukrainians who are the Nazis.

But already for some years, the victory cult has been referred to by critics as pobedobesie, a derogatory play on the Russian words for victory and obscurantism – “victorymania” is an approximate English translation.

As this pobedobesie metastasised year on year, the phenomenon took on forms that were ever more grotesque: schools put on performances in which the children dressed up as Soviet soldiers; people posing as captured Nazis were paraded through the streets. Ever more opponents of modern Russia were branded as Nazis, neo-Nazis or Nazi accomplices.

These days, almost any interview with a Russian official about current events will contain references to the second world war. The foreign ministry tweets about the conflict almost daily. Putin’s influential, hawkish confidant Nikolai Patrushev recently blamed the west for the rise of Hitler, and suggested today’s western world (and their Ukrainian “puppets”) are the true heirs to the Nazis.

“You should not be fooled by Anglo-Saxon respectability. Even a sharply tailored suit cannot hide hatred, anger and inhumanity,” he raged.

Read more of Shaun Walker’s report here: How Victory Day became central to Putin’s idea of Russian identity

Today so far …

  • Rescue operations to evacuate civilians trapped in besieged Mariupol are set to resume today as Russia’s assault on the Azovstal steel works plant continues. The Mariupol local authority has posted on its Telegram channel to thank those who have been carrying out evacuations from the city.
  • Andriy Yermak, the head of the presidential staff in Ukraine, said this morning a new attempt was under way to evacuate civilians trapped in the Azovstal steelworks. He said “The next stage of rescuing our people from Azovstal is under way at the moment. Information about the results will be provided later.”
  • Russian forces have continued their ground assault on the Azovstal steelworks for a second day, despite Russian statements claiming they would seek only to seal it off, the UK’s ministry of defence has said in its latest intelligence report.
  • The UN secretary general, António Guterres, described the war zone in Mariupol as appearing to be “hellscapes”. The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross have so far helped nearly 500 civilians flee the steel plant area in the southern port city during two operations in the past week.
  • Reports suggest the European Commission has amended a proposal for an embargo on Russian oil to extend the period before it takes effect for Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Under the tweaked proposal, Hungary and Slovakia will continue to be able to buy Russian oil from pipelines until the end of 2024, whereas the Czech Republic could continue until June 2024.
  • Russia’s defence ministry said its missiles destroyed a large ammunition depot in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk. It also said its air defences shot down two Ukrainian warplanes, an Su-25 and a MiG-29, in the eastern Luhansk region.
  • The US defense department has denied that it provided intelligence on the locations of Russian generals on the battlefield so that Ukraine forces could kill them. However, the US did provide intelligence that helped Ukrainian forces locate and strike the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet last month, according to US officials.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, for now. I will be back later. I am handing you over to my colleague Léonie Chao-Fong.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been speaking at a conference hosted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, and Reuters reports she said “I am confident that we will get this [sanctions] package on track – if it takes a day longer, it takes a day longer – but we are moving in the right direction.”

EU to allow Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic longer to implement oil ban – reports

Reuters is claiming that two sources have told it the European Commission has amended a proposal for an embargo on Russian oil to extend the period before it takes effect for Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Under the tweaked proposal, Hungary and Slovakia will continue to be able to buy Russian oil from pipelines until the end of 2024, whereas the Czech Republic could continue until June 2024, provided that it does not get oil via a pipeline from southern Europe earlier, the sources said.

Ukraine celebrates 6 May as Infantry Day, and earlier Lt Gen Serhii Shaptala, who is chief of the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine, posted this message to social media:

Being an infantryman is not easy, but it is honourable. That is why Ukrainians value and respect the infantry. Every day and every hour our warriors are in the thoughts, prayers and hearts of millions of people. Russian executioners in Ukraine should not be spared. We will not stop until the last occupier leaves our land.

I want to thank all the infantry, men and women who defend the will of our country and defend the entire civilised world in fierce battles with the enemy. I am proud to be an infantryman. Let’s win together!

Russia’s defence ministry said that its missiles destroyed a large ammunition depot in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk.

Reuters reports it also said its air defences shot down two Ukrainian warplanes, an Su-25 and a MiG-29, in the eastern Luhansk region.

It was not possible to independently verify the claims.

Today we are carrying an interview with Oxana Lytvynenko, as told to Weronika Strzyżyńska, in which the rights activist tells of her shock at hearing accounts of rape and murder in Ukraine:

When women at the border started talking to me about rapes and murders happening inside Ukraine, I thought these were just rumours; I wouldn’t let myself believe it. I told myself that it was just people sharing scare stories or that women were just trying to rationalise their feelings of guilt about leaving their husbands and sons. Maybe my psyche was trying to defend itself.

Then a woman in her 70s, who said she was from one of the occupied areas close to Irpin and Bucha, crossed the border with her daughter and great-granddaughter. The daughter, who was in her 50s, had cancer and was very sick. The medics could not believe that someone like this, with a hole in her stomach and no bandages, was so desperate to leave that she would risk travelling for so many hours with no medical support.

The woman told me that her grandson served in a military brigade that had been the first to go into recently liberated areas. She said he took photos of what he had seen. She showed them to me, and it was only then I understood it was worse than I could have ever imagined.

One of the photos she showed me was the hanging body of a young girl. She couldn’t have been more than 14. She said her grandson told her he was walking through the woods looking for dead bodies left by the Russians and lifted his head and saw these girls strung from the trees, all of them very young. They were naked and torn up. She said he had passed on the photos to investigators in Ukraine who were gathering evidence of war crimes. I was not ready to see something like this.

Read more here: ‘I didn’t believe stories of atrocities in Ukraine. But then I saw the photos’

Here are some of the latest images from Ukraine that we have been sent over the newswires today.

Displaced Ukrainians take part in a class by experts on how to deal with explosives in Lviv.
Displaced Ukrainians take part in a class by experts on how to deal with explosives in Lviv. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Members of a demining team of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine prepare to destroy an unexploded missile near the village of Hryhorivka, Zaporizhzhia region.
Members of a demining team of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine prepare to destroy an unexploded missile near the village of Hryhorivka, Zaporizhzhia region. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images
Service members of pro-Russian troops fire from a tank in Mariupol near the Azovstal steel plant.
Service members of pro-Russian troops fire from a tank in Mariupol near the Azovstal steel plant. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
New images of the destroyed Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo aircraft seen at Hostomel airfield.
New images of the destroyed Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo aircraft seen at Hostomel airfield. Photograph: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock
Didenko Ekaterina, 93, from the Ukrainian city of Vuhledar, waits for her daughter as people stay in line for registration at the aid distribution center for displaced people in Zaporizhia.
Didenko Ekaterina, 93, from the Ukrainian city of Vuhledar, waits for her daughter as people stay in line for registration at the aid distribution center for displaced people in Zaporizhia. Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

In the last few moments, the Mariupol local authority has posted on its Telegram channel to thank those who have been carrying out evacuations from the city. They posted:

Thank you for saving our people. We hope to expand the mission and increase the scale of the evacuation. After all, tens of thousands of civilians remain in Mariupol. They all live in difficult conditions of humanitarian catastrophe. There is a total shortage of food, drinking water and medicine in the city. Therefore, the evacuation must continue.

Reuters reports Andriy Yermak, the head of the presidential staff said this morning a new attempt was under way “at the moment” to evacuate civilians trapped in the Azovstal steelworks.

It quotes him saying: “The next stage of rescuing our people from Azovstal is under way at the moment. Information about the results will be provided later.”

UN plans third evacuation from Azovstal steelworks

Rescue operations to evacuate civilians trapped in besieged Mariupol are set to resume today as Russia’s assault on the Azovstal steel works plant continues.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said on Thursday a rescue convoy was already on its way while speaking at a Ukraine donor conference in Warsaw.

A convoy is proceeding to get to Azovstal by tomorrow morning hopefully to receive those civilians remaining in that bleak hell… and take them back to safety.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed to AFP “that a safe passage operation is ongoing” in coordination with the UN.

The two organisations already worked together to evacuate some 100 civilians from the plant at the weekend.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also confirmed the planned evacuation his latest address.

More than 150 people from Azovstal and more than 300 people from Mariupol and its suburbs who were evacuated by the humanitarian corridor this week are already receiving all the help they need. Medical, document renewal, financial assistance, communication with relatives, friends and families.

Currently, Russian shelling and assault of Azovstal do not stop.

But civilians still need to be taken out – women, children. Many children who are still there. Just imagine this hell! And there are children! More than two months of constant shelling, bombing, constant death nearby…”

The mayor of Mariupol estimates around 200 civilians remain sheltering in dismal conditions in the plant’s Soviet-era underground tunnels.

An estimated 200 civilians are thought to remain sheltering in dismal conditions in the Azovstal steel works plant underground tunnels.
An estimated 200 civilians are thought to remain sheltering in dismal conditions in the Azovstal steel works plant underground tunnels. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Meanwhile, the US Defense Department has denied that it provided intelligence on the locations of Russian generals on the battlefield so that Ukraine forces could kill them.

Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said it was true that the United States supplies Kyiv’s forces with military intelligence “to help Ukrainians defend their country” but Ukraine makes its own decisions on whether to target a Russian leader or not.

We do not provide intelligence on the location of senior military leaders on the battlefield or participate in the targeting decisions of the Ukrainian military,” Kirby said.

“Ukraine combines information that we and other partners provide with the intelligence that they themselves are gathering on the battlefield.

Then they make their own decisions, and they take their own actions.”

The White House National Security Council slammed the New York Times report as “irresponsible.”

“The United States provides battlefield intelligence to help the Ukrainians defend their country,” NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.

“We do not provide intelligence with the intent to kill Russian generals.”

US provided intel that helped Ukraine target Russian warship, sources say

The United States provided intelligence that helped Ukrainian forces locate and strike the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet last month, according to US officials.

The targeting help, which contributed to the eventual sinking of the Moskva is part of an ongoing classified effort by the Biden administration to provide real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces, having spotted a Russian warship in the Black Sea, called their American contacts for confirmation that it was in fact the Moskva, sources familiar with the events told CNN. The US reportedly responded that it was, and provided intelligence about its location.

Russian flagship Moskva sinks in Black Sea after being struck by Ukrainian missiles last month.
Russian flagship Moskva sinks in Black Sea after being struck by Ukrainian missiles last month. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

It is not clear whether the US knew Ukraine would move to strike the ship, however, and the US was not involved in that decision, the sources said.

Two senior American officials told the New York Times that Ukraine already had obtained the Moskva’s targeting data on its own, and that the United States provided only confirmation. But other officials said that the American intelligence was crucial to Ukraine’s sinking of the ship.

The ship sank after it was struck by two Ukrainian cruise missiles on 14 April in what was a major blow to the Russian military.

Russia renews assault on Azovstal plant, UK MoD says

Russian forces in Mariupol have continued their ground assault on the Azovstal steel works plant for a second day, despite Russian statements claiming they would seek only to seal it off, the UK’s ministry of defence has said in its latest intelligence report.

The renewed effort by Russia to secure Azovstal and complete the capture of Mariupol is likely linked to the upcoming 9 May Victory Day commemorations and Putin’s desire to have a symbolic success in Ukraine,” the report reads.

This effort has come at personnel, equipment and munitions cost to Russia. Whilst Ukrainian resistance continues in Azovstal, Russian losses will continue to build and frustrate their operational plans in southern Donbas.”

British prime minister Boris Johnson has lauded Ukraine’s president Zelenskiy as “truly one of the most incredible leaders of modern times” during a fundraising event in London.

Johnson said the UK will “continue to intensify” efforts to assist Ukraine for as long as the help is needed and insisted Russian president Vladimir Putin will “never break” the spirit of the Ukrainian people, Downing Street said.

No 10 said the aim of the event, titled ‘Brave Ukraine’, was to raise vital funds for the humanitarian response to the conflict, according to a report from PA Media.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praises Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyiy at the Tate Modern on Thursday in London, England.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praises Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyiy at the Tate Modern on Thursday in London, England. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

The PM said it was “a blessing for Ukraine and for the world” and “a disaster for Putin” that Zelenskiy was leading in Kyiv, describing the Ukrainian president as “truly one of the most incredible leaders of modern times”.

“No matter what Putin tries to do to Ukraine’s people … he will never break their spirit … He will never overcome those indomitable armed forces, who have already repelled the Russian army from the gates of Kyiv, and therefore achieved the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century,” he said.

That is why I’m more certain than ever that Ukraine will win. Ukraine will be free, and a sovereign Ukraine will rise again.

And it’s because this struggle is so clear cut, and without any moral ambiguity that I can see, a struggle between freedom and oppression, between democracy and tyranny, independence and imperialism, light and darkness, good and evil, that is why I think it speaks so deeply to us.”

“I want you to know, and I told Volodymyr this earlier on today in our conversation, we will continue to intensify this effort for as long as Ukraine wants and needs our help,” he added.

Summary

Hello and welcome back to the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine.

I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be bringing you all the latest developments until my colleague Martin Belam in London takes the reins a little later.

A third evacuation is hoped for civilians currently trapped sheltering in underground tunnels beneath the Azovstal steel works plant in besieged Mariupol, though Ukrainian defenders at the site claim Russia violated its promise of a ceasefire and has prevented the evacuation of civilians.

It is 8am in Ukraine. Here is everything you might have missed:

  • A third United Nations operation is under way to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. “A convoy is proceeding to get to Azovstal by tomorrow morning hopefully to receive those civilians remaining in that bleak hell … and take them back to safety,” the UN humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, said. The mayor of Mariupol estimates around 200 civilians remain sheltering in underground tunnels.
  • The UN secretary general, António Guterres, described the war zone in Mariupol as appearing to be “hellscapes”. The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross have so far helped nearly 500 civilians flee the steel plant area in the southern port city during two operations in the past week.
  • A Ukrainian commander said “heavy, bloody fighting” continues at Azovstal and Russia violated its promise of a ceasefire, preventing the evacuation of civilians. Svyatoslav Palamar, a commander of the Azov regiment that is defending the site, said in a video on Telegram: “Russians violated the promise of a truce and did not allow the evacuation of civilians who continue to hide from shelling in the basement of the plant.” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also said Russian shelling and assault of Azovstal “do not stop” in his latest address.
  • The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, demanded that Ukraine order its fighters holed up in Azovstal to surrender, the Kremlin said. In a call with Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, Putin claimed Russia was still ready to provide safe passage for civilians from the plant, according to the Kremlin.
  • The US says it shared intelligence with Ukraine about the location of the Russian missile cruiser Moskva prior to the strike that sank the warship, but the decision to attack was taken by the Ukrainians. US officials also reportedly confirmed they are providing intelligence that has helped Ukrainian forces target and kill many of the Russian generals.
  • German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock will visit Ukraine shortly amid reports Zelenskiy has also invited the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to visit him in Kyiv.
  • The UK government has placed sanctions on Evraz, the multinational steelmaker part-owned by the billionaire Roman Abramovich. The company was formerly counted among Britain’s biggest companies. The Foreign Office said on Thursday that the action would “further chip away at Putin’s financial reserves and siege economy, and support Ukraine’s continued resistance”.
  • The European Union plans to impose sanctions on Alina Kabaeva, long rumoured to be Vladimir Putin’s girlfriend, and Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church. Two sources said the EU has proposed sanctions on Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast whose appearance on a draft sanctions list was first reported by Bloomberg.
  • EU countries are “almost there” in agreeing the bloc’s proposed new package of sanctions against Russia, including an oil embargo, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday.
  • Naftali Bennett said Vladimir Putin had apologised for the Russian foreign minister’s claims that Adolf Hitler had Jewish origins. The Israeli prime minister, after a call with Putin, said he had accepted the apology and thanked the president for clarifying his position.
  • Putin hopes to claim Mariupol as key prop in Victory Day celebrations, according to Ukrainian intelligence. “Mariupol, according to [Russia’s] plans, should become the centre of celebrations,” Ukraine’s defence intelligence agency said. “A large-scale propaganda campaign continues, during which Russians will be shown stories about the ‘joy’ of local residents from meeting with the invaders.”
  • British prime minister Boris Johnson lauded Ukraine’s president Zelenskiy as “truly one of the most incredible leaders of modern times” during a fundraising event in London. Johnson said the UK will “continue to intensify” efforts to assist Ukraine for as long as the help is needed and insisted Russian president Vladimir Putin will “never break” the spirit of the Ukrainian people, Downing Street said.
  • Poland and the Baltic states have inaugurated a new gas pipeline that links the north-eastern EU with the rest of the bloc, a crucial step towards reducing dependence on Russian gas. The 508 km-long (316-mile) pipeline linking Poland and Lithuania’s gas networks will eventually be able to transport around two billion cubic meters of gas per year in either direction.
  • A $300 million yacht belonging to Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov has been seized by Fijian authorities at the request of the United States Department of Justice.
  • A court in Spain ordered the provisional release of Anatoly Shariy, a Ukrainian politician and blogger who was arrested after being accused of treason in Ukraine. Shariy was arrested on Wednesday near the coastal city of Tarragona under an international arrest warrant issued by Ukraine, according to Spain’s National Court and as reported by the Associated Press.
Service members of pro-Russian troops ride an infantry combat vehicle through the streets of Mariupol on Thursday.
Service members of pro-Russian troops ride an infantry combat vehicle through the streets of Mariupol on Thursday. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

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Russia-Ukraine war: Russia continues assault on Azovstal plant in likely attempt to capture Mariupol for upcoming Victory Day, UK says – live – The Guardian

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