Russia shoots down Ukrainian bombers as civilians evacuated from Mariupol

Moscow also claims to have struck a depot where weapons sent from the West were being stored

Ukrainian soldiers gestures on an armoured engineering vehicle carried on a tank transporter near Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, on April 30, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA  /  AFP)
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Russia has shot down two Ukrainian bomber planes and carried out strikes on US and European weapons supplies, Moscow’s Defence Ministry said in the latest developments in the war.

The Su-24m bombers were attacked overnight while flying over the Kharkiv region in north-east Ukraine, the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The Russian MoD also said it carried out attacks on an arms depot that stored weapons supplied to Ukraine by the West. The attack on the military airfield near the southern port city of Odesa also destroyed the runway.

“High-precision Onix missiles destroyed a hangar at a military airfield near Odesa, with weapons and ammunition delivered from the United States and European countries,” said Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov.

The ministry also released footage of what was said to be an Onix missile being launched from the Black Sea coast.

The attack came after Kyiv accused Moscow of knocking out a newly constructed runway at the main airport in the southern port city of Odesa.

Meanwhile, more than 50 civilians were led to safety from the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol on Sunday. A convoy of UN vehicles transported the group, comprised mainly of women and children, out of the area to signal a deal had been struck.

Much of Mariupol has been turned into wasteland by two months of Russian bombardment. The city is under Russian control but some fighters and civilians remain holed up in the Azovstal works — a vast, Soviet-era plant founded under Josef Stalin, designed with a labyrinth of bunkers and tunnels to withstand attack.

In one of the first signs of an evacuation deal, dozens of civilians arrived at a temporary accommodation centre on Sunday after leaving the area around the Azovstal plant. The group arrived in the village of Bezimenne in the Russian-backed Donetsk region, about 30 kilometres east of Mariupol.

A United Nations spokesman said he was unable to comment immediately. An aide to the mayor of Mariupol declared a period of silence, pending official statements about the evacuation.

UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu told The Associated Press that the operation to bring people out of the sprawling plant was being carried out with the International Committee for the Red Cross and in co-ordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials.

Mr Abreu called the situation “very complex” and declined to offer further details.

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

As many as 100,000 people are believed to be trapped in Mariupol.

Meanwhile, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi voiced support for Ukraine's "fight for freedom" during talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, US and Ukrainian officials said on Sunday.

The unannounced visit by a US delegation led by Ms Pelosi took place on Saturday and was not publicised until Sunday.

"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," Ms Pelosi told the Ukrainian leader at their meeting.

In a tweet, Mr Zelenskyy thanked the US "for helping protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state" and for "leading strong support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression".

Speaking in the Polish city of Rzeszow on Sunday, Ms Pelosi said her talks with Mr Zelenskyy had focused on "security, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance and eventually rebuilding when victory is won".

"We leave with a firmer understanding and more current understanding of what needs to be done, with a deeper appreciation and inspiration from those who are in the fight," she said.

Updated: May 01, 2022, 4:19 PM