Cities across Ukraine are preparing for an expected increase in Russian attacks as Russia prepares to celebrate Victory Day on 9 May.
The Russian national holiday commemorates the former Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Russian troops will march through the Red Square in Moscow to mark the occasion.
Russian forces have delivered more attacks on an embattled steelworks in an effort to conquer the southern port of Mariupol in time for the V Day celebrations.
As the day approaches, Ukrainian troops have solidified their positions around the city of Kharkiv, the nation’s second-largest city.
“These symbolic dates are to the Russian aggressor like red to a bull,” Ukraine’s first deputy interior minister Yevhen Yenin said.
“While the entire civilised world remembers the victims of terrible wars on these days, the Russian Federation wants parades and is preparing to dance over bones in Mariupol.”
In recent days, eastern Ukraine has faced intense fighting as both sides aim to take territory current under no control.
Western military analysts said a Ukrainian counter-offensive was advancing around the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, while the Russians made minor gains in Luhansk, an area where Moscow-backed separatists have fought since 2014. Against that backdrop, Ukrainian fighters are making a final stand to prevent a complete takeover of Mariupol.
Securing the strategically important Sea of Azov port that would give Moscow a land bridge to the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine during a 2014 invasion.
New satellite photos analysed by The Associated Press showed vast devastation at a sprawling seaside steel mill that is the last corner of Ukrainian resistance in the city.
Buildings at the Azovstal plant, including one under which hundreds of fighters and civilians are likely hiding, had large gaping holes in the roof, according to the images shot by Planet Labs PBC on Friday.
Attacks on the steel mill intensified in recent days despite a Russian pledge for a temporary ceasefire to allow civilians inside to escape.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister confirmed that all women, children and older adults have been rescued from the steel plant, in addition to 50 people who were evacuated earlier today. Around 50 civilians, including 11 children, had already been evacuated on Friday and taken to a reception centre in nearby Bezimenne. Civilians had been trapped for weeks alongside the remaining Ukrainian forces holding out in the besieged plant.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hopes the successful evacuations will lead to more people getting out of the large complex.
“Experience shows that a successful action helps further evacuations because now both sides have seen that it works. We hope that we can now build on this minimum of trust,” Dominik Stillhart, the ICRC’s director of operations, told Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung in an interview published on Saturday.
Russia has denied targetting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.