By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Around 100 Ukrainian civilians were being evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on May 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, after the United Nations confirmed a “safe passage operation” was in progress there.
“Grateful to our team! Now they, together with [United Nations], are working on the evacuation of other civilians from the plant,” Zelenskiy said on Twitter.
The evacuees would reach the city of Zaporizhzhya on May 2, he added.
The long-awaited rescue came as the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, pledged continued U.S. support for Ukraine when she met Zelenskiy in an unannounced visit to Kyiv.
Zelenskiy posted videos from the unannounced April 30 visit by Pelosi online on May 1.
“We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom,” Pelosi told Zelenskiy. “We are on a frontier of freedom, and your fight is for everyone. Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done.”
Pelosi arrived in the Ukrainian capital with a delegation that included House members Jason Crow (Democrat-Colorado), Jim McGovern (Democrat-Massachusetts), and Adam Shiff (Democrat-California). The trip had not been previously announced and comes when the United States and other countries are ramping up military aid and other support for Ukraine.
Pelosi said the delegation “delivered the message that additional American support is on the way.”
U.S. President Joe Biden last week asked Congress for a $33 billion aid package for Ukraine.
U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on May 1 that he would add provisions to the Ukraine aid package to allow the United States to seize Russian oligarchs’ assets and send money from their sale directly to Ukraine.
Zelenskiy posted on Twitter: “The U.S. is leading strong support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression.”
Pelosi later traveled to Poland for talks with President Andrzej Duda and other officials. Poland has taken in more than 3 million refugees from Ukraine since the war began.
“Do not be bullied by bullies,” Pelosi said 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.
Meanwhile, the United Nations confirmed that an operation to evacuate people from a steel plant in the bombed-out Ukrainian city of Mariupol is under way.
UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu told AP on May 1 that the effort to bring people out of the sprawling Azovstal steel plant was being done in collaboration with the International Committee for the Red Cross and in coordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials.
He called the situation “very complex” and would not give further details.
The Red Cross also said it couldn’t share any details about the operation.
“The ICRC insists on the fact that no details can be shared until the situation allows, as it could seriously jeopardize the safety of the civilians and the convoy. Relevant local authorities are communicating with the civilians about practical details,” it said.
A plan to evacuate civilians from areas of the devastated city outside the steelworks had been postponed to the morning of May 2, Mariupol’s city council said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said 80 civilians had been evacuated from the steel plant, adding: “Those who wished to leave for areas controlled by the Kyiv regime were handed over to UN and ICRC representatives.”
The UN believes about 1,000 civilians are living under the Azovstal steelworks in the city, the only part of Mariupol that is not under Russian occupation. There are believed to be about 100,000 civilians in the city, which has been the scene of intense fighting since the Russian invasion on February 24.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on May 1 that two groups of civilians — about 45 people in all — had been evacuated from Azovstal the previous day “as a result of a cease-fire regime and the opening of a humanitarian corridor.” The evacuees were reportedly taken to the settlement of Bezimenne.
The Ukrainian defenders in the Azovstal factory posted videos on April 30 saying they were running out of food, water, and other supplies and appealing for help.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian officials said that four civilians were killed and 11 injured by Russian shelling in the town of Lyman as Moscow’s forces push deeper into the eastern Donetsk region.
Moscow claimed on May 1 — without providing evidence — that Ukrainian forces in the southern region of Kherson had shelled civilian areas and caused casualties. The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to Reuters’ requests for details.
Ukraine’s military said Russian forces had launched attacks along the Kherson region’s borders and seemed intent on pushing toward the cities of Mykolayiv and Kryvyi Rih.
Russia on April 30 launched a rocket attack on an airport runway in Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and a key Black Sea port. The Ukrainian military said the attack had rendered the airport unusable. Odesa’s governor said the attack was launched from the Russia-occupied Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
Pope Francis on May 1 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.”