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Pelosi meets Polish president as Mariupol evacuations continue

Fresh from an unannounced visit to Kyiv, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met Monday with the president of Poland, thanking him and his country for taking in the lion’s share of Ukrainians who have fled their country since the war there began.

The United Nations says the number of Ukrainian refugees has now topped 5.5 million. The world body is also assisting Monday with a second day of evacuations from the southern city of Mariupol, where at least hundreds of people have been surrounded by Russian troops in a sprawling steel plant that has become the last redoubt of Ukrainian forces and some civilians.

Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who was joined by several high-ranking congressional Democrats, said in a statement from Warsaw that they “expressed America’s deep gratitude to the Polish government and Polish people” for taking in refugees and aiding Ukrainian fighters. Polish President Andrzej Duda, in brief public remarks, called the war a “crucial” time for his country.

Pelosi, the highest-level U.S. official to visit Ukraine since Russia invaded Feb. 24, was scheduled to depart the region later Monday. Her swing through Ukraine and Poland followed a similar tour last week by the U.S. secretaries of State and Defense.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) meets Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw on Monday.

(Marek Borawski / Office of the President of Poland)

In Ukraine, Russian forces have largely taken over Mariupol, a strategic port on the Sea of Azov. President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking in his nightly video address, said he expected around 100 Mariupol civilians who were evacuated Sunday to arrive Monday in the inland city of Zaporizhzhia.

Zelensky described evacuation corridors as one of the few subjects to see progress from off-and-on talks between Russia and Ukraine. He said about 350,000 people had been given safe passageway from battle zones over the last months.

At the same time, there was a report of new attacks on Mariupol, a once-thriving cosmopolitan city where reported mass graves and dwindling food supplies have turned it into a symbol of the war’s brutality.

A mayoral aid, Petro Andryushchenko, said Monday that Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant was hit with shelling Sunday even as evacuations overseen by the U.N. and the International Red Cross were taking place.

“As soon as the buses left Azovstal with the evacuees, new shelling began immediately,” Andryushchenko said in a Ukrainian TV interview.

Information on the the situation at the steelworks has been difficult to obtain and ascertain even for local officials. Some estimates have put the number of those surrounded by Russian troops at 600. Others have said there are at least 2,000 people taking shelter in the complex.

A commander in Ukraine’s national guard, Denys Shlega, said Sunday in a televised interview that there were “several dozen small children” there as well as 500 injured soldiers and “numerous” bodies of the dead.

The worst fighting continued overnight in eastern Ukraine, where a 300-mile battlefront has become a center of Russia’s attempt to capture the industrial Donbas region.

In its morning operational update, the Ukrainian military said that Russia had deployed more anti-aircraft missile systems in occupied areas of Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up the Donbas, and that there was a continuing threat of missile strikes in the battle zone from Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor and an ally of Russia.

Russian serviceman with a gun

A Russian serviceman stands guard in an area of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in territory under Russian military control in southeastern Ukraine.

(Associated Press)

In his video address, Zelensky said Moscow had also hit residential neighborhoods along with food warehouses in other areas of Donbas as well as in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city. Zelensky said Russian President Vladimir Putin was conducting a “a war of extermination.”

Two Russian Raptor-class patrol boats were destroyed early Monday near Snake Island in the Black Sea, the Ukrainian military said. On the Telegram messaging app, it posted what appeared to be drone footage of one of the vessels taking a direct hit, but the video’s authenticity could not immediately be confirmed.

For its part, Russia said its warplanes struck 38 Ukrainian targets, including concentrations of troops and weapons, over the last 24 hours. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said that an airstrike also destroyed an ammunition depot in the Zaporizhzhia region and that a Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter jet was downed near the eastern town of Slovyansk. The claims could not be independently verified.

The British Defense Ministry said a quarter of Russian troops dispatched to Ukraine are now “combat ineffective,” meaning that they are unable to complete their mission because of casualties and equipment losses.

The ministry said 65% of Russia’s combat forces have been assigned to Ukraine since the war began, with some of the greatest setbacks hitting the best-trained units. “It will probably take years for Russia to reconstitute these forces,” it said.

Still, much of Ukraine has remained on alert, including the relatively peaceful western city of Lviv, a transit point for refugees fleeing west and a center for humanitarian aid.

Air-raid sirens regularly blast in the city, as in other regions of the nation. Over the weekend, a video went viral of actor Angelina Jolie — a special envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees — meeting orphans in Lviv as sirens blared in the background.

In Odesa, a southwestern city that borders Moldova, fears have grown over increasing attacks as Moscow attempts to take Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, in a move that would connect Russia, Russia-controlled Crimea and a pro-Russia separatist region in Moldova.

In a Telegram post Monday, regional government spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk said that a key bridge on the Dniester estuary had been hit — for the third time. Over the weekend, Russia also said it had taken aim at an airport outside the city, leaving it non-functional.

King reported from Lviv and Kaleem from London.

File source

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