Russia is helpless, says Zelenskyy as Mariupol evacuation breaks down

Ukrainian president says his people are working every day to evacuate those still trapped at Azovstal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on April 20. AP

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Tuesday that the Russian military continued to try to storm the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol despite evacuation agreements.

Mr Zelenskyy said 156 people have reached Zaporizhzhia today, most of them women and children who spent more than two months in the bunkers under the steelworks.

“Finally, these people are completely safe. They will get help,” he said. “This is not a victory yet but it’s already a result. And I believe that there is a chance to save others of our people.”

Mr Zelenskyy vowed to continue attempts to evacuate everyone left behind at Azovstal, civilians and soldiers.

“Of course, we will continue to do everything to get all our people out of Mariupol and Azovstal," he said.

"It’s difficult. But we need everyone who is still there, both civilians and soldiers. There wasn’t any day when we did not deal with this issue, when our people were not trying to solve it."

Ukrainian commanders said on Tuesday that Russian troops backed by tanks began storming the sprawling plant, which includes a maze of tunnels and bunkers spread out over 11 square kilometres.

The number of Ukrainian fighters inside was unclear, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000 in recent weeks, and 500 were reported to be wounded.

A few hundred civilians also remained there, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

In his nightly address, Mr Zelenskyy said Russian strikes on several cities were a response to Ukrainian “successes”.

“They are trying to vent their helplessness because Ukraine is beyond their power,” he said.

“The more there are such strikes, the farther Russia is from civilisation, from what is called being civil.”

Updated: May 04, 2022, 5:30 AM