Ukraine seeks to evacuate civilians from Mariupol
By Stefan J. Bos
A cleaning operation is underway between the ruins of Mariupol, which is now almost entirely occupied by the Russian military. Workers help attach a Russian flag near destroyed buildings, such as a theater where officials say hundreds of people died in a Russian attack.
Authorities claim that at least 200 civilians in this shattered Ukrainian southern city, including about 20 children, are still hiding in bunkers of a massive steel plant here.
And there are reportedly some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters in the plant, which became a symbol of resistance amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine's president, said almost 500 civilians were safely moved from Mariupol since the latest United Nations-led rescue operation began earlier this week.
But there is mounting concern that many more will die in the plant and perhaps elsewhere in Mariupol. Kyiv claims tens of thousands of people were killed in relentless Russian shelling before the Russian troops moved in.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Ukraine that its fighters still holding out in the Azovstal steel plant should surrender.
Capturing the whole of Mariupol is of symbolic importance for Russia ahead of the annual May 9 Victory Day, marking the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.
A man said: "We are helping with this humanitarian mission to restore monuments and parks in Mariupol ahead of the May 9 celebrations."
Taking over Mariupol is also seen as a face-saving effort by Russia after losing its prestigious warship Moskva, named after the Russian capital.
There have been reports that the U.S. provided intelligence that helped Ukraine sink the vessel.
However, Washington denied other reports that the United States helped Ukraine to target and kill Russian generals in a separate recent strike on a military headquarters.