KYIV: Dozens of civilians have left a besieged steel plant in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Russia said on Sunday, as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to support Ukraine against Russian “bullies” after visiting Kyiv.
Russia’s defence ministry said a total of 46 civilians had left in two groups on Saturday from the area around the Azovstal plant — the last holdout of Ukrainian forces in the city.
“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 Russian defence ministry said on Telegram on Sunday.
One group of 21 people was taken to Bezimenne, a village on the Azov Sea near Mariupol that is controlled by Russian forces, the ministry said.
The UN confirmed that a “safe passage operation is ongoing” at Azovstal in coordination between the Red Cross and Russian and Ukrainian forces but declined to give details because of safety concerns.
The development has raised hopes of a long-awaited evacuation from the plant, where Ukrainian fighters say they and hundreds of civilians have been sheltering from relentless Russian bombardment.
Pope Francis on Sunday used his weekly Angelus prayer to renew his appeal for humanitarian corridors from Mariupol, saying that the city had been “bombed and destroyed in a barbaric manner”.
“Do not be bullied by bullies,” Pelosi told reporters at a press conference in Rzeszow in southern Poland after returning from Ukraine. “If they are making threats, you cannot back down. That’s my view of it. We are here for the fight and you cannot fold to a bully,” she said.
Pelosi met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Saturday, becoming the most senior US figure to visit since the war began. “We are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom… Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,” she told him.
Pelosi also promised to enact the $33-billion (31bn-euro) arms and support package announced by US President Joe Biden last week.