Russia blocking evacuations from Ukrainian steel plant, official says

Russia is blocking evacuations from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, according to a local official, after Russian President Vladimir Putin previously agreed “in principle” with the United Nations to allow evacuations from the area.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern region of Donetsk, said Russia won’t create humanitarian corridors around the steel plant that has been pummeled by Russian forces in recent weeks. The steel works have become a last place of refuge in the city amid Russia’s onslaught.

Kyrylenko claimed Russian forces are not allowing evacuations because they want to capture Ukrainian military members.

“They (want to) use the opportunity to capture the defenders of Mariupol, one of the main [elements] of whom are the… Azov regiment,” Kyrylenko said Thursday.

The Azov regiment is the group of soldiers protecting civilians inside the plant, Reuters reported.

“Therefore the Russian side is not agreeing to any evacuation measures regarding wounded [Ukrainian] troops.”

The comment follows a night of the most intense strikes on the facility since the war began, Mykhailo Vershynin, chief of the Mariupol Patrol Police, told CNN.

“Last night, the plant was hit by the strongest strike so far. First, there was a massive air strike using seven Tu-22M3 aircraft. Then there were more than 50 air strikes. Apparently, either the Su-25s worked, or the Su-24s,” Vershyin said.

The news comes after Putin agreed “in principle” to allow civilians out of the steel plant following a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

Russian forces did attempt to storm the steel plant over the weekend, but Putin directed them to surround the area and prevent people from escaping.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky previously slammed Russia over its attack against Mariupol.

“The situation in Mariupol remains as severe as possible. Just inhuman,” Zelensky said. “This is what the Russian Federation did. Deliberately did. And deliberately continues to destroy cities. Russia is deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there in Mariupol.”

Russia has refocused its efforts on eastern and southern Ukraine in the past two weeks after failing to make progress around the capital city of Kyiv.

“The [new offensive] is ongoing now for a second week, and the enemy has not met its tactical or strategic aims,” Kyrylenko said, according to Reuters.

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