Ukraine seeks evacuation of wounded fighters as war rages on

  • Ukraine in ‘complex talks’ on evacuating wounded fighters
  • Ukraine deputy PM says war ‘entering new, long phase’
  • Hundreds of Russian war dead brought to rail yard

KYIV, May 14 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s president said very difficult talks were underway on evacuating “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.

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 military analysts say President Vladimir Putin and his generals failed to anticipate when they launched the invasion on Feb. 24, has also slowed and in some places reversed Russian advances around Ukraine.

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“At the moment very complex negotiations are under way on the next phase of the evacuation mission – the removal of the badly wounded, medics,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a late night address.

He said “influential” international intermediaries were involved in the talks, without elaborating. Russia, which initially insisted the defenders in the sprawling Soviet-era bunkers beneath the steel works give themselves up, has said little publicly about the talks.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told local TV on Saturday that efforts were now focused on evacuating about 60 people, comprising the most seriously wounded as well as medical personnel.

Many of those still in the plant are members of the Azov Regiment. Deputy commander Sviatoslav Palamar on Friday said his forces would continue to resist as long as they could.

“Our enemy, supported by planes and artillery, continues to attack. They continue their assault on our positions but we continue to repel them,” he told an online forum streamed on YouTube.


Moscow’s invasion, which it calls a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists, has jolted European security, prompting Finland – which shares a long border with Russia – and most likely Sweden to abandon their long-cherished military neutrality and seek NATO membership.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, quoted by Russian news agencies on Saturday, said Moscow had no hostile intentions towards the two Nordic countries but that it would take “adequate precautionary measures” if NATO deployed nuclear forces and infrastructure closer to Russia’s border.

In their first conversation since the invasion, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by telephone on Friday with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, seeking an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and stressing the importance of open lines of communication. read more

Despite Ukrainian resistance, Russian forces have made steady gains in southern Ukraine and the eastern Donbas region.

“We are entering a new, long phase of the war,” Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a Facebook post, predicting extremely tough weeks when Ukraine would largely be alone against an “enraged aggressor”.

In its latest bulletin, Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had hit Ukrainian command posts, ammunition depots and other military equipment in several regions, including the Donbas, killing at least 100 Ukrainian “nationalists”.

Reuters could not independently verify the report.


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 the time when they can be sent back to their families.

“Most of them were brought from the Kyiv region, there are some from Chernihiv region and from some other regions too,” Volodymyr Lyamzin, the chief civil-military liaison officer, told Reuters as stretcher-bearers in white, head-to-toe protective suits lifted body bags into the box cars. read more

He said refrigerated trains stationed in other regions across Ukraine were being used for the same grim purpose.

Moscow has imposed a military-civilian administration in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region and plans to hold a referendum there on whether it wishes to join the Russian Federation, mirroring similar votes held in the adjacent Crimea peninsula in 2014 and in two Donbas regions.

Russia would almost certainly manipulate the results of such a vote, Britain’s defence ministry said.

Anna Kuznetsova, deputy head of Russia’s Duma or lower house of parliament, visited Kherson, offering assistance to residents of the small southern city seized in the first week of the invasion, state RIA news agency reported on Saturday. read more

Ukrainian forces have driven their enemies away from the second largest city, Kharkiv, near the Russian border, but Moscow was still bombarding nearby villages, including Dergachi, some 10 km (six miles) north of Kharkiv.

“I can’t call it anything but a terrorist act,” Dergachi Mayor Vyacheslav Zadorenko told Reuters after missiles struck a building used to distribute aid. read more

Russia, which denies targeting civilians, said its forces had hit an arms depot, shot down a Ukrainian Su-27 aircraft in the Kharkiv region and disabled the Kremenchuk oil refinery in central Ukraine.

Reuters could not independently verify the claims.

A day after Finland committed to applying to join NATO, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde on Friday advocated membership for her country too, though NATO member Turkey has raised objections. read more

Russia views NATO enlargement as a threat to its own security and Putin has said one aim of the war in Ukraine is to prevent it ever joining the Western alliance.

Meeting in Germany, foreign ministers from the G7 group of rich nations on Friday backed giving Ukraine more aid and arms. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced a further 500 million euros ($520 million) in military support that should be approved next week by EU members.

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Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets, Tom Balmforth, Idrees Ali, David Ljunggren and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Gareth Jones; Editing by William Mallard and David Clarke

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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