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Smoke rises from the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol. Alexei Alexandrov/AP
russian invasion

Ukraine forces accuse Russia of firing during evacuation of Mariupol steel plant

Ukrainian fighters say “assault operations” continued despite a ceasefire.

LAST UPDATE | 6 May 2022

UKRAINE’S AZOV BATTALION, leading Kyiv’s defence of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, accused Russian forces today of firing during a civilian evacuation of the huge steelworks, despite a Moscow-imposed ceasefire.

“During the ceasefire at the Azovstal plant, a car was hit by Russians who used an anti-tank guided weapon,” the Azov battalion said on Telegram, saying the vehicle was “moving towards civilians to evacuate them” at the time.

The strike killed one Ukrainian fighter and wounded six others, it said.

The Russian army had said it would impose a three-day ceasefire from yesterday to allow civilians to leave the plant, but Ukrainian fighters said “assault operations” continued against Azovstal.

Kyiv had earlier said evacuations of civilians from the steelworks would continue today after almost 500 people from both Azovstal and the port city of Mariupol were taken to safety in UN-led rescue operations.

The capture of Azovstal would allow Moscow to claim total control of Mariupol, a strategic port on the Azov Sea that has suffered huge destruction since the Russian invasion began on 24 February.

Victory Day parade

Kyiv alleges Moscow is planning a parade in Mariupol for 9 May, when Russia marks ‘Victory Day’ in honour of the Soviet defeat of the Nazis, celebrated with military pomp on the Red Square.

Kyiv’s presidential advisor Mikhaylo Podolyak accused Moscow of planning to parade Ukrainian prisoners on 9 May, comparing it to a parade held by pro-Russian separatists when they seized the city of Donetsk in 2014.

“24.09.14 ‘parade of prisoners’ was held in Donetsk, where soldiers of the Ukrainian army were walked through the streets, while garbage was thrown into them,” Podolyak said on Twitter.

“Eight years later, the Kremlin decided to repeat the ‘play’ on 9th of May in Mariupol with civilians in military uniform.”

The Kremlin said today there will be no Victory Day celebrations in Ukraine’s Mariupol.

“A time will come and there will be a big celebration there,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that there were no plans for official visits on the day.

“There will certainly be Russians there, and there will be many Russians on May 9, but I don’t know about any official delegation,” Peksov said.

Moscow-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine said they had taken down traffic signs spelling out the name of Mariupol in Ukrainian and English and replaced them with Russian ones.

US intelligence

Meanwhile, the US has said it shared intelligence with Ukraine about the location of the Russian missile cruiser Moskva prior to the strike that sank the warship, an incident that was a high-profile failure for Russia’s military.

An American official said Ukraine alone decided to target and sink the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet using its own anti-ship missiles.

But given Russia’s attacks on the Ukrainian coastline from the sea, the US has provided “a range of intelligence” that includes locations of those ships, said the official.

The Biden administration has ramped up intelligence-sharing with Ukraine alongside the shipment of arms and missiles to help it repel Russia’s invasion.

EU oil ban plan

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has blasted European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen for “attacking” EU unity with a plan to ban Russian oil, saying it crosses a red line and has been sent back.

“The European Commission president, intentionally or unintentionally, has attacked the European unity that had been worked out,” Orban said on state radio.

“From the first moment we made clear that there will be a red line… they have crossed this red line.”

On Wednesday the EU executive proposed to the bloc’s 27 members a ban on Russian oil imports in its toughest move yet over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

politics-ukraine Press Association Images Press Association Images

Von der Leyen said the bloc would “phase out Russian supply of crude oil within six months, and refined products by the end of the year”.

Hungary and Slovakia – both highly dependent on Moscow’s oil exports – would have until the end of 2023.

The embargo would amount to “a nuclear bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy”, Orban said, adding that the proposed exemption for Hungary until end-2023 is not long enough.

“The transformation of the Hungary energy transmission and supply system could be completed in five years,” Orban said.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in a video message posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday said Budapest would back the proposal if crude oil delivered via pipelines was exempted from the EU’s ban.

“I avoid the word ‘veto’, I do not want to confront the EU. We are interested in a constructive dialogue,” said Orban, who was re-elected for a fourth straight term as premier last month.

He said the proposal “has been returned to sender, to Madame President, to work on further”.

Orban also protested against the inclusion in the sanctions package of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.

“We will not allow church leaders to be put on a sanctions list,” said Orban, who has cultivated close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to Budapest, 65% of Hungary’s oil and 85% of its gas supplies come from Russia. 

German howitzers

Germany will send seven self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, the defence ministry said today, ramping up  deliveries of heavy weapons to help Kyiv battle Russia’s invasion.

The Panzerhaubitze 2000s (armoured howitzer 2000) are from the Bundeswehr’s maintenance stock and not from the pool currently in use by the army.

They come on top of another five howitzers of the same model that the Netherlands will be delivering to Ukraine, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said during a visit to Slovakia.

The German army has about 100 howitzer 2000s in its stocks, but only 40 are combat ready. No delivery dates were provided.

Ukrainian soldiers are due to begin training in Germany from next week on using the howitzers.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has been under fire for dragging its feet on arming Ukraine compared to other Western allies.

After limiting weapon deliveries to mainly defensive armaments, Berlin finally agreed in late April to send tanks.

© – AFP, 2022

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