Complex talks are under way to evacuate a large number of wounded soldiers from a besieged steelworks in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol in return for the release of Russian prisoners of war, Ukrainain President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday.
Mariupol, which has seen the heaviest fighting in nearly three months of war, is now in Russian hands, but hundreds of Ukrainian defenders are still holding out at the Azovstal steelworks despite weeks of heavy Russian bombardment.
Fierce Ukrainian resistance, which analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals failed to anticipate, has slowed and in some places reversed Russian advances elsewhere in Ukraine.
As well as losing large numbers of men and much military equipment, Russia is also reeling from economic sanctions.
Foreign ministers from the G7 yesterday pledged in a statement to “further increase economic and political pressure on Russia” and to supply more weapons to Ukraine.
They also pledged to “expedite our efforts to reduce and end reliance on Russian energy supplies.”
In a late-night address, Zelenskiy addressed the plight of people trapped at the Azovstal site.
“At the moment very complex negotiations are under way on the next phase of the evacuation mission — the removal of the badly wounded, medics,” he said, adding that “influential” international intermediaries are involved in the talks.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told local TV yesterday that efforts were focused on evacuating about 60 people, comprising the most seriously wounded, as well as medical personnel.
Moscow’s invasion has jolted European security, prompting Finland and most likely Sweden to abandon their long-cherished military neutrality and seek NATO membership.
Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Grushko, quoted by Russian news agencies yesterday, said Moscow had no hostile intentions toward the two Nordic countries, but that it would take “adequate precautionary measures” if NATO deployed nuclear forces and infrastructure closer to Russia’s border.
Despite Ukrainian resistance, Russian forces have made steady gains in southern Ukraine and the eastern Donbas region.
In a grim illustration of the toll on Russia’s own forces, Reuters footage on Friday showed the bodies of Russian soldiers being brought to a rail yard outside Kyiv and stacked with hundreds of others in a refrigerated train, waiting for a time when they can be sent back to their families.
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