CARA ANNA and YESICA FISCH

Zaporozhye, Ukraine (AP) – A long-awaited effort to evacuate civilians from a metallurgical plant in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol continued on Sunday, the UN said, and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she visited the Ukrainian president to demonstrate unwavering support. for defending the country from Russian aggression.

A spokesman for the UN humanitarian organization, Saviano Abreu, told the Associated Press that the operation to remove civilians from the large metallurgical plant Azovstal was carried out with the participation of the International Committee of the Red Cross and in coordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials.

It is estimated that about 100,000 people are still in blockaded Mariupol, including about 1,000 civilians who, along with about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters, were trapped under the Soviet-era capital plant, the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.

The fate of the Ukrainian fighters was not immediately clear.

Like other evacuations, the success of the mission in Mariupol depended on Russia and its forces deployed along a long series of checkpoints before reaching the Ukrainian ones.

Zaporozhye, a city about 141 miles (227 kilometers) northwest of Mariupol, was an evacuation point, Abrew said. He said women, children and the elderly, who have been in constipation for almost two months, will be evacuated to the city, where they will be immediately provided with humanitarian assistance, including psychological.

Mariupol experienced some of the greatest sufferings of the war. The maternity hospital was hit by a deadly Russian air strike in the first weeks of the war, and it was reported that about 300 people died in the bombing of a theater where civilians were hiding.

Abrew said UN officials would not report further details of the evacuation, “to ensure the safety of civilians and humanitarian personnel in the convoy.”

However, the Mariupol City Council said on Sunday in a message in the Telegram messaging program that the evacuation of civilians from other parts of the city would begin on Monday morning due to security concerns. People who have fled Russian-occupied areas in the past have said their cars came under fire, and Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Russian forces of shelling evacuation routes agreed upon. .

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted earlier Sunday that the first group of about 100 people had headed to Ukraine-controlled territory.

“Tomorrow we will meet with them in Zaporizhia. Grateful to our team! Now they are working with # UN to evacuate other civilians from the plant, ”he tweeted.

The Doctors Without Borders team was at the reception center for displaced persons in Zaporizhia on Sunday in preparation for the arrival of the UN convoy in case of success. Stress, exhaustion and low food supplies probably weakened the health of civilians who found themselves underground in the factory.

Meanwhile, Deputy Commander of the Ukrainian Regiment Sviatoslav Palamar called for the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian fighters and civilians. “We do not know why they are not taken out and their evacuation to the territory controlled by Ukraine is not discussed,” he said in a video released on Saturday on the regiment’s Telegram channel.

In a video and footage from inside the metallurgical plant shared with the AP, two Ukrainian women who said their husbands were among the fighters who refused to surrender showed men with stained bandages, open wounds or amputated limbs, including gangrene. The AP was unable to independently verify the location and date of the video, which the women said was made last week.

Meanwhile, Pelosi, a Democrat from California who is second in line to succeed the president, visited Kyiv on Saturday, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. lawmaker to travel to the country since Russia’s February 24 invasion. Her visit came days after Russia launched missiles into the capital during a visit by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

During a Sunday news conference in the Polish city of Rzeszów, Pelosi said she and other members of the US congressional delegation met with Zelenski and brought him “a message of gratitude from the American people for his leadership.”

MP Jason Crow, a U.S. Army veteran and a member of the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committee, said he came to Ukraine with three directions: “Weapons, Weapons and Weapons.”

“We need to make sure that the Ukrainians have what they need to win. What we have seen in the last two months is their fury, their strong pride, their ability to fight and their ability to win if they have the support, ”said a Colorado Democrat.

In Zaporozhye on Sunday, residents ignored air raid sirens and warnings to hide at home to visit the cemetery when Ukrainians celebrate Orthodox Day of the Dead.

“If our dead could be resurrected and see it, they would say, ‘This is impossible, they are worse than the Germans,'” said Gennady Bondarenko, 61, celebrating the day with his family at a picnic table among the graves. “All our victims joined the battle, including the Cossacks.”

Russian troops have launched a major military operation to capture much of southern and eastern Ukraine after they failed to capture the capital, Kyiv. Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of ​​Azov, is a key destination because of its strategic location near the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.

In Russia’s heavy offensive, Ukrainian forces are fighting from village to village and more civilians fleeing air strikes and artillery shelling.

Ukrainian intelligence has accused Russian forces of seizing medical facilities to treat wounded Russian soldiers in several occupied cities and towns, and of “destroying medical infrastructure, seizing equipment and leaving the population without medical care.”

In a Sunday message on Facebook, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine said that in Volchensk, Kharkiv region, TB patients “were denied medical care and expelled to the streets” because the premises are used to treat wounded Russian servicemen. It said four hospitals in eastern Ukraine were similarly “forced to serve the needs of the Russian Federation”, claiming that Russian forces had organized a makeshift munitions depot at a facility near Zaporizhia and banned personnel from providing medical care to locals. The AP was unable to immediately verify the accuracy of the allegations.

Getting a complete picture of the battle in eastern Ukraine was difficult because air strikes and artillery shelling made the movement of journalists extremely dangerous. In addition, both Ukraine and Moscow-backed insurgents have imposed tough restrictions on reporting from the war zone.

But Western military analysts believe that the offensive in the Donbass region, which includes Mariupol, is much slower than planned. So far, Russian troops and separatists appear to have made little progress in the month since Moscow said it would concentrate its military power in the east.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid have arrived in Ukraine since the start of the war, but Russia’s vast arms depots mean that Ukraine will continue to demand enormous support.

In the days leading up to the war, Western intelligence estimated that Russia had deployed up to 190,000 troops near the border; Ukraine’s permanent military force numbers about 200,000 people, distributed throughout the country.

With a lot of firepower in store, Russia’s offensive could still intensify and capture the Ukrainians. In total, the Russian army has about 900,000 active personnel. Russia also has a much larger Air Force and Navy.

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Fish reported from Sloviansk. Associated Press reporters John Gambrell and Yuras Karmanov in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita Baldor in Washington, Trisha Thompson in Rome and AP staffers around the world.

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Follow the coverage of the war in Ukraine in the AP: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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