UN confirms deal with Russia, Red Cross on evacuating civilians from Mariupol plant

Civilians are evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross on May 1, 2022.
Civilians are evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross on May 1, 2022. © Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters

The United Nations confirmed on Sunday that a deal on a "safe passage operation" had been agreed with Russian and Ukrainian officials as well as with the Red Cross on evacuating civilians trapped at the Azovstal steel plant in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Read our live blog below to see how the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time [GMT+2].  


4.49am: Russia not seeking to end Ukraine war by May 9, says FM

Russia is not looking to end its war in Ukraine by Victory Day on May 9, its foreign minister said, as the country looks set to mark the key anniversary under the cloud of a deadly conflict. 

Speaking with Italian outlet Mediaset, Sergei Lavrov insisted Moscow would not rush to wrap up its so-called "special military operation" in time for the anniversary, which celebrates Nazi Germany's surrender to allied forces -- including the then Soviet Union -- in 1945. 

"Our military will not artificially adjust their actions to any date, including Victory Day," Lavrov said in the interview released Sunday. 

"The pace of the operation in Ukraine depends, first of all, on the need to minimise any risks for the civilian population and Russian military personnel," he added.

Russia typically marks Victory Day in grand style, with a large military parade in central Moscow and a speech by President Vladimir Putin hailing the country's leading role in the defeat of fascism in Europe. 

4:30am: EU energy ministers hold crisis talks after Russian gas cuts

Energy ministers from European Union countries hold emergency talks on Monday, as the bloc strives for a united response to Moscow's demand that European buyers pay for Russian gas in roubles or face their supply being cut off.

Russia halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland last week after they refused to meet its demand to effectively pay in roubles.

Those countries already planned to stop using Russian gas this year and say they can cope with the stoppage, but it has raised fears that other EU countries, including Europe's gas-reliant economic powerhouse Germany, could be next.

It has also threatened to crack the EU's united front against Russia amid disagreement on the right course of action.

With many European companies facing gas payment deadlines later this month, EU states have a pressing need to clarify whether companies can keep buying the fuel without breaching the EU's sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

3:05am: Explosions in Russian region bordering Ukraine

Two explosions took place in the early hours on Monday in Belgorod, the southern Russian region bordering Ukraine, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the region's governor wrote in a social media post.

"There were no casualties or damage," Gladkov wrote.

10:18pm: Pelosi's visit to Kyiv is 'very significant'

Pelosi's visit to Kyiv is "very significant; it's another show of solidarity and support for Ukraine," The Guardian's David Smith told FRANCE 24 from Washington DC.

9:20pm: Eight dead after Russian airstrikes in eastern Ukraine, governor says

Eight civilians died on Sunday following Russian shelling attacks in Donetsk and Kharkiv, the regions' governors said, as Moscow's forces push deeper into eastern Ukraine.

The deaths came as the Russian army refocuses its efforts on eastern Ukraine, notably the Donbas region, which incorporates Donetsk and Lugansk.

Four were killed in shelling in the town of Lyman in Donetsk, the regional governor said.

"On May 1, four civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk region, all in Lyman. Eleven other people were injured," governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram. Another person had died of his injuries in a town near Lyman, he added.

7:44pm: Denmark, Sweden summoning Russian envoys over airspace breaches

Denmark and Sweden are summoning Russia's ambassadors after a Russian spyplane violated the air space of both countries, their governments said Sunday.

Officials said the plane entered Danish airspace on Friday evening east of the Danish Baltic island of Bornholm before flying into Swedish airspace.

"The Russian ambassador is summoned to the foreign ministry tomorrow," Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod tweeted on Sunday, referring to a "new Russian violation of Danish airspace".

The Swedish foreign ministry also said the Russian ambassador would be summoned in Stockholm.

7:42pm: Ukraine says it's stalling Russian offensive

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.

5:38pm: Ukraine postpones evacuations from other parts of Mariupol to Monday

A plan to evacuate civilians from areas of the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol outside of the Azovstal steel works has been postponed to 0500 GMT on Monday, Mariupol's city council said.

4:30pm: Zelensky says first group of 'about 100 people' has left Azovstal plant

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a tweet on Sunday that a first group of "about 100 people" had been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and thanked those involved.

Zelensky said a team would be heading to meet the evacuees in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia on Monday.

He added that the UN and others were working on evacuating the rest of those trapped at the plant.

Russia's defence ministry also confirmed that civilians were evacuating from Azovstal, estimating the number at 80 people, according to Russian news agencies.

3:24pm: UN confirms deal on evacuating civilians from Ukraine's Mariupol

The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are conducting a "safe passage operation" for civilians from the Azovstal steelworks in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Sunday. 

The operation began on April 29 as part of a deal between the UN, the ICRC, Russia and Ukraine, spokesman Saviano Abreu told AP.

He said the operation arrived at the steel works on Saturday morning, adding that no further details could be released so as not to jeopardise the safety of evacuees.

As many as 100,000 people are believed to be trapped in Mariupol, including up to 1,000 civilians and 2,000 Ukrainian fighters beneath the Azovstal steel plant.

3:04pm: Germany reports progress in reducing energy reliance on Russia

Germany said Sunday that it has made rapid progress in reducing its reliance on Russian energy, a strategic shift Europe's biggest economy has made since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Russian supplies now make up 12 percent of Germany's oil imports compared to 35 percent previously, the economy ministry said in a statement.

Coal from Russia has also been slashed to eight percent, compared to 45 percent of Germany's purchases previously. Dependence on gas remains substantial, but Europe's biggest economy had also reduced its Russian sources to 35 percent of the total compared to 55 percent before Russia's aggression in Ukraine.

Germany is expected to be able to largely wean itself off Russian gas by mid-2024.

2:29pm: Civilians continue to evacuate from Azovstal steel plant

More than 50 civilians were evacuated on Sunday from Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks, with many transferred in a convoy of vehicles bearing United Nations symbols, indicating that a deal had been struck to transfer civilians trapped in the besieged port city. 

Reuters photographs showed around 40 civilians arriving in the village of Bezimenne in the Donetsk region, around 30km east of Mariupol. A Reuters photographer reported seeing a group of 14 more people arriving at a temporary accommodation centre after leaving the steel factory. 

Russian state media earlier cited Russia's defense ministry as saying 46 people had been evacuated from areas near the Azovstal steel plant. 

2:21pm: NATO exercises begin along eastern flank

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 are happening 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.

2:20pm: Japanese, Vietnamese leaders reject use of force in Ukraine

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida discussed the war in Ukraine with Vietnamese leaders on Sunday and said they agreed on the respect for international law and rejection of the use of force.

Japan has condemned Russia's invasion and joined Western nations in imposing sanctions against Moscow. Vietnam, like most other southeast Asian nations, has avoided directly criticising Russia and has called for restraint, the respect of the UN charter and dialogue to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Vietnam abstained from a vote at the UN General Assembly in March that deplored Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Vietnam is one of Moscow's historic allies and Vietnam's military has been equipped mostly with Russian weapons.

12:51pm: Pope says Ukraine's Mariupol has been 'barbarously bombarded'

Pope Francis on Sunday described the war in Ukraine a "macabre regression of humanity" that makes him "suffer and cry", calling for humanitarian corridors to evacuate people trapped in the Mariupol steelworks.

In Roman Catholicism, the month of May is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Francis asked for month-long prayers for peace in Ukraine."My thoughts go immediately to the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city of Mary, barbarously bombarded and destroyed," he said of the mostly Russian-controlled southeastern port city, which is named after Mary.

"I suffer and cry thinking of the suffering of the Ukrainian population, in particular the weakest, the elderly, the children," he said.

11:25am: Russia claims high-precision missiles used to destroy runway at Odesa airport

Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday it used high-precision Onyx missiles to destroy a runway at a military airfield near Odesa.   

Odesa Regional Governor Maksym Marchenko said Russia had used a Bastion missile launched from Crimea.

FRANCE 24 could not immediately confirm the reports.

Ukrainian officials said on Saturday that a Russian strike destroyed a runway at the main airport in the southwestern city of Odesa. Ukraine’s Operational Command South said in a Telegram post that a runway was rendered inoperative as a result of the rocket attack.

Local authorities urged residents of the city – Ukraine’s third-largest and a key Black Sea port – to shelter in place as Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, citing army sources, reported that “several” explosions were heard.

11:39am: Angelina Jolie visits Lviv

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie made a surprise appearance in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where she met displaced people and was spotted in a cafe.

Jolie also visited injured children at a hospital and spoke to volunteers. The actress is a UNHCR special envoy but it was not known if she was visiting the country in that capacity. 

11:00am: Ukrainian army regains control over four villages in Kharkiv region

The Ukrainian army say that they have liberated a strategic area northeast of Kharkiv, on the way to the Russian border. Civilians evacuated from these villages talk about having lived through a "nightmare". FRANCE 24's correspondent in Kyiv, Gulliver Cragg, provides more details below. 

10:33am: Russia says 46 civilians left area near Azovstal plant on Saturday

Two groups of civilians left the residential area around the Azovstal steel works in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Saturday, the Russian defence ministry said on Sunday.

"On April 30, following the implementation of a ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor, two groups of civilians have left the residential buildings adjacent to the site of the Azovstal steel plant," the ministry said on Telegram.

"Twenty-five residents left in the afternoon. In the early evening, a second group of 21 people left and were taken to Bezimenne," a village situated halfway between Mariupol and the Russian border.

"All of the civilians were given accommodation, food and necessary medical help," the Russian authorities said, without specifying where the first group had been taken.

A defence ministry video showed a convoy of cars and buses travelling in the dark, marked with a "Z", the letter used by the Russian forces in the conflict.

On Saturday, the Ukrainian forces guarding the Azovstal site had said that 20 civilians, including children, had been evacuated to the city of Zaporizhzhia.

8:24am: Ukraine's Zelensky meets with Nancy Pelosi in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held a meeting on Sunday with US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Kyiv and shared a video of her visit.

"We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom ... Your fight is a fight for everyone. Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done," Pelosi said in a video shared by Zelensky on Twitter.


8:20am: Britain says Russia eyes long-term control of Ukraine's Kherson

Russia probably aims to exert strong political and economic influence on Ukraine's southern region of Kherson in the long term, after ruling out its return to Ukrainian control and initiating a currency switch to the rouble, Britain said.

"Since seizing ... Kherson in early March, Russia has sought to legitimise its control of the city and surrounding areas through installing a pro-Russian administration," the defence ministry said in a Twitter post on Sunday.

Russia's enduring control of the region and transport links will benefit its ability to sustain advances to the north and west and improve its security control of nearby Crimea, the post added.

6:30am: Twenty civilians evacuated from besieged Mariupol plant

At least 20 civilians including several children were able to leave a badly battered steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Saturday in what could be the start of a long-awaited, larger evacuation of the last Ukrainian holdout in the city.

Earlier efforts at evacuations from the Azovstal steel plant -- where local fighters say they and hundreds of civilians are still sheltering under dire conditions -- had been futile.

Ukrainian fighters of the Azov regiment, which has been defending the site, said 20 civilians had left, possibly for the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, about 225 kilometres (140 miles) to the northwest. 

Russia's Tass and RIA news agencies carried a similar report, though putting the number of evacuees at 46.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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