Live updates l Commander glad for steel mill evacuations

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KYIV, Ukraine — Sviastoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, which is helping defend the last section of Mariupol not occupied by the Russians, said he was glad evacuations had begun.

Palamar hoped the evacuations from the Azovstal steel mill continue until everyone in the plant, civilians and soldiers, had gotten out. It’s been difficult even to reach some of the wounded inside the plant, he told The Associated Press in an interview from Mariupol on Sunday.

“There’s rubble. We have no special equipment. It`s hard for soldiers to pick up slabs weighing tons only with their arms,” he said.

The Azovstal plant is strewn with mines, rockets, artillery shells and unexploded cluster ordnance, he said.

Along with the Azov regiment, Palamar said, the plant is being defended by the 36th Marine Brigade, police officers, border guards, coast guard and more. “Some of them guard the territory, some of them prevent attempted attacks, some of them are responsible for a ceasefire, some of them help to clear the rubble under shelling.”

He said the presence of children and civilians makes it harder to fight, and there are many injured people in the plant. There’s not enough water, he said, and the air smells of decomposing bodies.

The fighters in the plant will continue to resist until they receive an order not to, Palamar said.

“The best solution in this situation is our evacuation. Does it make a sense to continue carrying this massacre?” he asked.

The standoff at the steel plant saved many lives, he believes. “Because if we hadn’t done this, the front line would be much bigger. The front line would be in another area.”

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

Evacuations underway at steel plant in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol

— Pelosi leads delegation to Kyiv and Poland; vows US support

— Combat death puts spotlight on Americans fighting in Ukraine

— Wives of Mariupol defenders appeal for soldiers’ evacuation

— Look for the orange vest: Ukrainians in Romania help others

— Germany vows to stop using Russian oil exports by late summer.

Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

An explosive device damaged a railway bridge Sunday in the Kursk region of Russia, which borders Ukraine, and a criminal investigation has been started. The region’s government reported the blast in a post on Telegram.

Recent weeks have seen a number of fires and explosions in Russian regions near the border, including Kursk. An ammunition depot in the Belgorod region burned after explosions were heard, and authorities in the Voronezh region said an air defense system shot down a drone. An oil storage facility in Bryansk was engulfed by fire a week ago.

The explosion Sunday caused a partial collapse of the bridge near the village of Konopelka, on the Sudzha-Sosnovy Bor railway, the report from Kursk said.

“It was a sabotage, a criminal case has been opened,” said the region’s governor, Roman Starovoit, according to TASS. He said there were no casualties, and no effect on the movement of trains.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Four civilians were reported killed and 11 more were injured by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region on Sunday, the Ukrainian regional governor said that evening.

The deaths and seven of the injuries were in the northern city of Lyman, governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote in a Telegram post. One person also died in the city of Bakhmut from injuries received in the Luhansk region, he said.

In the same post, Kyrylenko said that it was impossible to determine the number of victims in the bombed-out port city of Mariupol and the town of Volnovakha, which is controlled by pro-Kremlin separatists.

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LVIV, Ukraine — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Moscow of waging “a war of extermination,” citing strikes against non-military targets on Sunday.

Zelenskyy said in his nightly address that Russian shelling had hit food, grain and fertilizer warehouses, and residential neighborhoods in the Kharkiv, Donbas and other regions.

“The targets they choose prove once again that the war against Ukraine is a war of extermination for the Russian army,” he said.

He said Russia will gain nothing from the damage but will further isolate itself from the rest of the world.

“What could be Russia’s strategic success in this war?" Zelenskyy said. "Honestly, I do not know.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president is describing his hourslong weekend meeting with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Kyiv as a powerful signal of support in a difficult time.

In a televised address on Sunday evening, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his meeting with Pelosi included discussions of defense supplies to Ukraine, financial support and sanctions against Russia.

Pelosi and a half dozen U.S. lawmakers met with Zelenskyy and his top aides for about three hours late Saturday to voice American solidarity with the besieged nation and get a first-hand assessment as she works to steer a massive new Ukraine aid package through Congress.

Zelenskyy says Ukrainians “are grateful to all partners who send such important and powerful signals of support by visiting our capital at such a difficult time.”

Additionally, Zelenskyy estimated that more than 350,000 people had been evacuated from combat zones thanks to humanitarian corridors pre-arranged with Moscow since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. Many civilians were evacuated Sunday from at a steel plant in the bombed-out city of Mariupol.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian military officer says that Russian forces have resumed their shelling of a steel plant in the war-torn port city Mariupol immediately after the partial evacuation of civilians.

Ukrainian National Guard brigade commander Denys Shlega said Sunday in a televised interview that the shelling began as soon as rescue crews ceased evacuating civilians at the Azovstal steel mill.

Shlega says that at least one more round of evacuations is needed to clear civilians from the plant. He says dozens of small children remain in bunkers below the industrial facilities.

The commander estimates that several hundred civilians still are trapped at the site alongside nearly 500 wounded soldiers and numerous dead bodies. The plant is the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.

A video published earlier on Sunday by the Russian defense ministry showed people walking out of the steel plant, including a small group of women accompanied by two pet dogs.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Sunday’s evacuations from Mariupol marked the initiation of a vitally need humanitarian corridor.

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BERLIN — Germany says it’s making progress on weaning itself off Russian fossil fuels and expects to be fully independent of crude oil imports from Russia by late summer.

Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck said Sunday that Europe’s largest economy has reduced its share of Russian energy imports to 12% for oil, 8% for coal and 35% for natural gas.

Habeck says those steps mean increased costs for the economy and for consumers. But he says the changes are necessary if Germany no longer wants to be “blackmailed by Russia.”

The announcement comes as the European Union considers an embargo on Russian oil. The bloc has already decided to ban Russian coal imports starting in August.

Weaning German off Russian natural gas is a far bigger challenge. Before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Germany got more than half of its natural gas imports from Russia.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The city council in the bombed-out southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol says Monday is the scheduled start date for a broad, U.N.-backed evacuation of its civilians, other than those sheltering at a steel plant.

The city council also confirmed Sunday in a social media post on Telegram that some civilians were being evacuated Sunday from the Azovstal steelworks that is the last Ukrainian defense stronghold in Mariupol. City officials note the support of the Red Cross and say the wider evacuation of the strategic port city was delayed by security concerns.

As many as 100,000 people are believed to still be in blockaded Mariupol, including up to 1,000 civilians who were hunkered down with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters beneath the Soviet-era steel plant. The plant is the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian army says that a Russian offensive along a broad front in the country’s east has been stalling amid human and material losses inflicted by Kyiv’s forces.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Sunday in a Facebook post that Russian troops were trying to advance in the Sloboda, Donetsk and Tauride regions, but were being held back by Ukrainian forces that continue to fight village by village.

Separately, Ukrainian intelligence officials accused Russian forces of destroying medical infrastructure, taking equipment and denying medical care to residents in several occupied cities and towns.

In a Facebook post Sunday, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense claims that ventilators and other equipment provided since 2014 by international donors and the government of Ukraine were removed from a hospital at Starobilsk in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region.

The same post alleges that tuberculosis patients were denied medical care in the Kharkiv region at Volchansk while several facilities were used to treat wounded Russian troops.

The accuracy of the claims could not be immediately verified.

Ukrainian officials also said Sunday that internet and cellular communications were cut in a large area in the Russian-occupied Kherson region and part of the Zaporizhzhia region and blamed Russian forces. The London-based internet monitor Netblocks said the Kherson region lost 75% of internet connectivity beginning Saturday evening.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has confirmed that an evacuation is underway of civilians at a steel plant in the bombed-out city of Mariupol.

Zelenskyy said on social media Sunday that a group of 100 people are on their way from Azovstal steelworks to Ukrainian-controlled territory.

He indicated that plans are underway for a Monday rendezvous with the evacuees at the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia that has previously been a staging post for those fleeing Mariupol. Zaporizhzhia is located about 230 kilometers (140 miles) from Mariupol.

As many as 100,000 people are believed to still be in blockaded Mariupol, including up to 1,000 civilians who were hunkered down with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters beneath the Soviet-era steel plant — the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.

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DUSSELDORF, Germany — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has pledged to continue to support Ukraine with money, aid and also weapons, saying a pacifist approach to the war is “outdated.”

Speaking at a May Day rally in Dusseldorf, Scholz said: “I respect all pacifism, I respect all attitudes, but it must seem cynical to a citizen of Ukraine to be told to defend himself against Putin’s aggression without weapons.”

The German leader also warned that the war would have consequences for food supply, potentially leading “to a worldwide hunger crisis.”

Soaring food prices and disruption to supplies coming from Russia and Ukraine have threatened food shortages in countries in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia.

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ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — The United Nations has confirmed that an operation to evacuate people from a steel plant in the bombed-out Ukrainian city of Mariupol is underway.

U.N. humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu told The Associated Press on Sunday that the effort to bring people out of the sprawling Azovstal steel plant was being done in collaboration with the International Committee for the Red Cross and in coordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials.

He called the situation “very complex” and would not give further details.

Up to 1,000 civilians are believed to be hunkered down with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters beneath the sprawling Soviet-era steel plant that is the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has brushed aside criticism that his government is not doing enough to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion.

Even though Germany reversed its policy of not sending weapons to countries at war, Scholz has been accused at home and abroad of being hesitant and slow in coming to Ukraine’s aid. In an interview published Sunday by newspaper Bild, the Social Democratic leader defended his government’s approach.

“I make my decisions quickly — and in coordination with our partners,” Scholz was quoted as saying. “I am suspicious of acting too hastily and Germany going it alone.”

Germany broke with tradition after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 to supply anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles and other military equipment to Ukraine. It has since agreed to provide Gepard anti-aircraft guns, but Scholz has faced mounting pressure to send other heavy weapons including tanks and other armored vehicles.

Scholz, who replaced Angela Merkel as chancellor late last year, said he wasn’t bothered by opposition claims that he’s too hesitant and timid.

“It is part of a democracy that you are robustly challenged by the opposition,” he said.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has appealed again for a safe evacuation of Ukrainians trapped in the steel plant of Mariupol, saying he weeps thinking of their suffering and how their city has been “barbarously bombed and destroyed.”

Speaking Sunday during his traditional noontime prayer, Francis urged all the faithful to pray the Rosary every day in May for peace. He noted that May 1 begins the month Christians dedicate to Mary, the mother of God and for whom Mariupol is named.

He said: “Even now, even from here, I renew the request that safe humanitarian corridors be arranged for the people trapped in the steelworks of that city. I suffer and cry thinking of the suffering of the Ukrainian population, especially the weakest, the elderly and children.”

He noted the “terrible reports of children being expelled and deported” and the “terrible regression of humanity.”

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s armed forces said Sunday that military exercises involving thousands of NATO soldiers have begun. They are regular exercises aimed at improving the security of the alliance’s eastern flank but come this year with Russia’s war against Ukraine raging nearby.

Due to those circumstances, Poland’s military appealed to the public on Sunday not to publish information or photos of the columns of military vehicles expected to move through the country in the coming weeks.

It warned that “ill-considered activity” could harm the alliance’s security. “Let’s be aware of the dangers!” the statement said.

The Polish Army said in a statement that 18,000 soldiers from over 20 countries were taking part in the Defender Europe 2022 and Swift Response 2022 exercises that are taking place in Poland and eight other countries.

The exercises are scheduled to run May 1-27.

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RZESZOW, Poland — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has praised the courage of the Ukrainian people and vowed continued U.S. support to help Ukraine defeat Russia after leading a congressional delegation to Kyiv to assess Ukraine’s needs for the next phase of the war.

Pelosi, a California Democrat who is next in line to the presidency after the vice president, is the most senior American lawmaker to visit Ukraine since Russia’s war began more than two months ago.

She and a half-dozen U.S. lawmakers met for three hours Saturday with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his top aides. Speaking to reporters Sunday in Poland, the delegation members were unanimous in praising Ukraine’s defenses so far and offering continued long-term military, humanitarian and economic support, vowing the United States would stand with Ukraine until it defeated Russia.

“This is a time we stand up for democracy or we allow autocracy to rule the day,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York.

Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, a veteran and a member of the House intelligence and armed services committee said he came to Ukraine with three areas of focus: “Weapons, weapons and weapons.”

He said: “We have to make sure the Ukrainians have what they need to win. What we have seen in the last two months is their ferocity, their intense pride, their ability to fight and their ability to win if they have the support to do so.”

Pelosi said she was “dazzled” by Zelenskyy’s expertise of all the issues at hand and described him at their meeting as “a remarkable master class of leadership.”

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LONDON — Russian “cyber soldiers” have launched a new offensive against foreign leaders, targeting social media platforms with a large-scale disinformation campaign that seeks to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine, according to research funded by the U.K.

Paid operatives working from a factory in St. Petersburg use the Telegram messaging app to recruit and coordinate supporters who then flood the social media accounts of Kremlin critics with comments supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine, the U.K. Foreign Office said Sunday.

The so-called troll factory has developed new techniques to avoid detection by social media platforms, posting comments and amplifying pro-Kremlin content created by legitimate users rather than creating its own content, the Foreign Office said. Traces of its activity have been found on eight social media platforms, including Telegram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.

The operation has targeted politicians and wider audiences in a number of countries, including the U.K., South Africa and India, the Foreign Office said. It is believed to have links to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who has been sanctioned by both the U.S. and Britain for financing the Kremlin’s online influence operations.

“We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in the statement. “The U.K. government has alerted international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations.”

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LVIV, Ukraine — Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show damage to oil depots just across the Ukrainian border in Russia after suspected Ukrainian attacks.

The photos from Saturday show damage at two sites in Bryansk. The blasts damaged multiple tanks, leaving the surrounding grounds charred.

The explosions happened Monday. One hit an oil depot owned by Transneft-Druzhba, a subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled company Transneft that operates the western-bound Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline carrying crude oil to Europe.

The second facility is a short distance from the other.

Bryansk is located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the border with Ukraine.

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KYIV, Ukraine — U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has met with Ukraine’s president.

Footage released early Sunday by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office showed Pelosi in Kyiv with a Congressional delegation. Those with Pelosi included Reps. Jason Crow, Jim McGovern and Adam Schiff.

Zelenskyy told the delegation: “You all are welcome.”

Pelosi later said: “We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom. We are on a frontier of freedom and your fight is a fight for everyone. Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done.”

The visit was not previously announced.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Some women and children were evacuated from a steel plant that is the last defensive stronghold in the bombed-out ruins of the port city of Mariupol, a Ukrainian official and Russian state news organizations said.

But hundreds are believed to remain trapped with little food, water or medicine.

The United Nations was working to broker an evacuation of the up to 1,000 civilians living beneath the sprawling Soviet-era Azovstal plant after numerous previous attempts failed.

Ukraine has not said how many fighters are also in the plant, the only part of Mariupol not occupied by Russian forces, but Russia put the number at about 2,000. An estimated 100,000 civilians remain in the city.

U.N. humanitarian spokesperson Saviano Abreu said the world organization was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and Kyiv, but he could not provide details of the ongoing evacuation effort “because of the complexity and fluidity of the operation.”

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LVIV, Ukraine — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says American diplomats are making plans to return to Ukraine as soon as possible.

Blinken made the comment while speaking to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. An overnight statement Sunday said Blinken told Kuleba that America “plans to return to Kyiv as soon as possible.”

He said diplomats had been making “initial visits” to Lviv to prepare.

The U.S. evacuated its embassy in Kyiv in February just before Russia launched its war on the country. The U.S. had been bringing diplomats across the Polish border each day to work in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, before stopping the practice.

Lviv has largely been spared in the conflict, though a missile strike several days ago targeted a railroad facility near the city.

The U.S. is one of Ukraine’s main backers in the war, providing billions in aid and weaponry.

The Associated Press

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