Moscow/kyiv | Reuters: The European Union is set to issue oil sanctions against Moscow on Wednesday as Russian forces pounded targets in eastern Ukraine, unleashing rockets on a steelworks that is the last resistance redoubt in the port city of Mariupol .
Dozens of evacuees who managed to leave the city under UN and Red Cross auspices reached the relative safety of Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday after cowering for weeks in bunkers beneath the sprawling Azovstal steelworks.
Tired-looking evacuees, including children and the elderly, got off buses after escaping the ruins of their hometown in southeastern Ukraine, where Russia now claims control.
“We had said goodbye to life. We thought no one knew we were there,” said 70-year-old Valentina Sytnykova, who said she took refuge in the factory for two months with her son and granddaughter. – 10 year old girl.
Russia is targeting Mariupol as it seeks to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea and connect Russian-held territory to the south and east. Parts of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were held by Russian-backed separatists before President Vladimir Putin launched the February 24 invasion.
More than 200 civilians remain at the plant, according to Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko, with 100,000 civilians still in the city.
“You go somewhere and you get chased… Where do I go? Let them blow me up here,” a 67-year-old woman told Reuters in the city as she boiled water over an open fire amid the rubble. of a destroyed building.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to outline proposed new sanctions on Wednesday, including a ban on Russian oil imports by the end of this year.
Moscow has shown no sign of backing down nearly 10 weeks in what it calls a “special military operation”, a war that has killed thousands, destroyed cities and forced 5 million Ukrainians to flee to the stranger. Russia’s $1.8 trillion economy is heading for its biggest contraction since the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Putin has raised the economic stakes for kyiv’s Western backers by announcing plans to block exports of vital raw materials.
Russian forces turned their heaviest firepower on eastern and southern Ukraine after failing to take kyiv, the capital, in the first weeks of the war.
There were also new attacks in the west on Tuesday. The mayor of Lviv said Russian missile strikes had damaged electricity and water networks in the western city near the Polish border, through which supplies Western weapons for the Ukrainian military flow.
Russian forces also hit six railway stations in the central and western parts of the country, Ukrainian Railways chief Olesksandr Kamyshin said. No civilians were injured, he added on Twitter.
In the east, Russian attacks in Donetsk on Tuesday killed 21 civilians and injured 27, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said. He said the figure was the highest daily death toll in the region since last month.
Attacks and shelling also intensified in Luhansk, with the most difficult area being Popasna, where it was impossible to organize evacuations, regional governor Serhiy Haida said.
“There are no safe cities in the Lugansk region,” he said on Telegram.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Russian military “reacted today with great anger to our successes”.
“The sheer scale of today’s shelling clearly does not indicate that Russia has any specific military objective,” he said in an evening address to the nation.
Russia said it hit a military airfield near the Black Sea port of Odessa with missiles, destroying drones, weapons and ammunition supplied by the West. Ukraine said three missiles targeted the Odessa region and they were all intercepted.
Mariupol, a city of 400,000 before the invasion, saw the bloodiest fighting, enduring weeks of siege and shelling.
A ceasefire was broken with civilians still trapped in bunkers under the steelworks despite a UN-brokered evacuation.
In a Telegram video from the steelworks, Captain Sviatoslav Palamar of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment said Russia pounded Azovstal with artillery and airstrikes on Monday night. Reuters could not independently verify his account.
Zelenskiy accused Russia of violating agreements to pause fighting to allow civilians to escape.
“They’re still fighting. They’re still bombing and shooting,” Zelenskiy said via video link at a Wall Street Journal event. “We need a break.”
US President Joe Biden used a visit to a Lockheed Martin defense plant to pressure the US Congress to approve his proposed $33 billion aid package for Ukraine, which includes more $20 billion in military aid.
“If you don’t stand up to dictators, history has shown us that they keep coming, they keep coming,” Biden told workers at the Alabama plant.
Britain announced additional aid of 300 million pounds ($375 million).