Russia-Ukraine war: UN evacuation under way from Mariupol steelworks; Pelosi dismisses fears of provoking Russia – live

United Nations evacuation under way from Mariupol steelworks

A UN operation to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol is under way, a spokesperson has confirmed.

Officials reached the factory on Saturday, and the exercise is being coordinated with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Ukraine and Russia.

According to Reuters, the UN’s Saviano Abreu added that further information was not being shared to ensure the safety of evacuees. It’s believed about 1,000 people are at the site.

The evacuation of the Azovstal steel plant is ongoing, according to the UN.

“It was agreed with both parties to the conflict that civilians who had been stranded for nearly two months in Azovstal – women, children and the elderly – will be evacuated to Zaporizka where they will receive immediate humanitarian support, including psychological services,” the United Nations said in a statement. “As the operations are still ongoing, we will not provide further details at this point, to guarantee the safety of the civilians and humanitarians in the convoy.”

About 100 civilians have so far been evacuated from the plant in Mariupol in a joint mission by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Here’s a dispatch from Reuters’ Guy Faulconbridge, who interviewed a woman who had been evacuated:

Cowering in the labyrinth of Soviet-era bunkers far beneath the vast Azovstal steel works, Natalia Usmanova felt her heart would stop she was so terrified as Russian bombs rained down on Mariupol, sprinkling her with concrete dust.

Usmanova, 37, spoke to Reuters on Sunday after being evacuated from the plant, a sprawling complex founded under Josef Stalin and designed with a subterranean network of bunkers and tunnels to withstand attack.

“I feared that the bunker would not withstand it – I had terrible fear,” Usmanova said, describing the time sheltering underground.

“When the bunker started to shake, I was hysterical, my husband can vouch for that: I was so worried the bunker would cave in.”

“We didn’t see the sun for so long,” she said, speaking in the village of Bezimenne in an area of Donetsk under the control of Russia-backed separatists around 30 km (20 miles) east of Mariupol.

She recalled the lack of oxygen in the shelters and the fear that had gripped the lives of people hunkered down there.

Read more about the evacuation effort here:

Trevor Reed’s release puts spotlight on other Americans in Russian jail

Julian Borger

The release of Trevor Reed, an American prisoner held by Russia, in exchange for a convicted Russian drug smuggler, has shown that Washington and Moscow are still able to negotiate on some issues even after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The exchange on the tarmac of a Turkish airport on Monday morning, has also focused attention on the plight two other Americans left behind in Russian jails, held on flimsy or spurious grounds – most likely as bargaining counters.

One is Paul Whelan, a former marine who was arrested in 2018 in a Moscow hotel, where he had gone to attend a friend’s wedding. He was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years hard labour.

The other is Brittney Griner, a basketball star who was detained in a Moscow airport on 17 February, a week before the Ukraine invasion, and accused of having cannabis oil in her possession. A court has ordered her held until 19 May, pending investigation.

For both, the news of Reed’s release brought mixed emotions: it showed that such deals are possible, but also the regret that they were excluded on this occasion.

“As I do everything in my power to get BG home, my heart is overflowing with joy for the Reed family,” Griner’s wife, Cherelle, wrote on Instagram. “I do not personally know them, but I do know the pain of having your loved one detained in a foreign country. That level of pain is constant and can only be remedied by a safe return home. For the Reed family, that day is today.”

In a call from a penal colony, Whelan telephoned his parents and asked: “Why was I left behind?

“While I am pleased Trevor is home with his family, I have been held on a fictitious charge of espionage for 40 months,” he said, according to his twin brother, David. “The world knows this charge was fabricated. Why hasn’t more been done to secure my release.”

Read more:

Denmark and Sweden have said a Russian spy plane violated their airspace.

From AFP:

Officials said the plane entered Danish airspace on Friday evening east of the Danish Baltic island of Bornholm before flying into Swedish airspace.

“The Russian ambassador is summoned to the foreign ministry tomorrow,” the Danish foreign minister, Jeppe Kofod, tweeted on Sunday, referring to a “new Russian violation of Danish airspace”.

The Swedish foreign ministry also said the Russian ambassador would be summoned in Stockholm.

“There exist established procedures for this kind of case. It concerns notably summoning the representative of the implicated nation to the foreign ministry,” it said in an email.

Kofod added that it was “totally unacceptable and particularly worrying in the current situation”, alluding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions with Nato, of which Denmark is a member.

Henrik Mortensen, a Danish defence command press officer, told AFP on Sunday about the incident.

“It was a reconnaissance plane that was in our airspace for a very brief moment. Two Danish F-16s immediately intervened,” Mortensen said, adding that such incidents were rare.

Denmark is a member of Nato, unlike Sweden, where a debate is taking place over whether it should abandon its non-aligned status and join the alliance.

Questioned by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, the Swedish defence minister said there was no proof that the breach was linked to current discussions on Stockholm eventually joining Nato.

Russia has already signalled that Stockholm and Helsinki, which is also contemplating membership, should consider the consequences of such a move for bilateral relations and Europe’s overall security architecture.

Paula Erizanu

Inside Transnistria, separatist authorities have kept quiet about the war raging in Ukraine. “Transnistria’s leaders are being cautious,” said the Moldovan journalist Alina Radu. “They are not cheering on the war, but nor are they criticising Russia’s military aggression.”

Since the death of its Soviet-era industry, Transnistria’s economy has been dominated by a small elite. Russia provides Transnistria with free gas, which gives businesses in the region a competitive advantage over other businesses in Moldova.

Its largest conglomerate, which controls everything from petrol stations to a cognac distillery – and the football club FC Sheriff – was co-founded by the former KGB agent Victor Gușan, who also has a Ukrainian passport and owns property in Kyiv.

“Transnistrian leaders are under a lot of pressure,” said the Moldovan journalist Alina Radu. “For the first time, they are isolated. Both Moldova and Ukraine have governments that are not pro-Russian. Transnistrian elites have two options: to follow the orders of Putin, the most terrible dictator today, or to have a prosperous future with Europe.”

Analysts in Chișinău warn that Russian security and propaganda networks are spreading.

A recent report from the Royal United Services Institute, said Russia’s FSB spy agency aimed “to destabilise Moldova to tie down Ukrainian forces on the southern border, to counter growing pro-European sentiment in the country, and to show the west that support for Ukraine risks wider consequences, including in the Balkans”.

Valeriu Pașa, from the Moldovan thinktank Watchdog said that Moscow had overestimated vestigial pro-Russia sentiment in the country.

“Russia’s aim is to create tension,” he said, pointing to debunked viral reports that Romanian troops had been deployed near the border with Moldova.

However, Moldova, with a population of just 2.5 million, has already suffered from mass emigration, and such pressures have the potential to cause more harm, said Radu. “I am afraid that the tension might generate yet another harmful wave of emigration – just as the government has been trying to bring back the diaspora.”

Here’s more background on Transnistria, and why is it being drawn into Ukraine war:

Russia’s online trolling operation is becoming increasingly decentralised and is gaining “incredible traction” on TikTok with disinformation aimed at sowing doubt over events in Ukraine, a US social media researcher has warned, reports the Guardian’s Rob Booth.

Darren Linvill, professor at Clemson University, South Carolina, who has been studying the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA) troll farm operation since 2017, said it was succeeding in creating more authentic-seeming posts.

His comments came as the UK government cited unpublished that showed Russia was “using Telegram to actively recruit and coordinate new supporters who then target the social media profiles of Kremlin critics – spamming them with pro-Putin and pro-war comments.”

Linvill said this was “highly consistent with what we have seen the IRA previously do, given how it understands the power of authenticity”.

It was reported that targets have included Boris Johnson’s social media accounts as well as accounts of bands and musicians including Daft Punk, David Guetta and Tiësto. The government said it had shared the research with the social media platforms.

That’s all from me, Jennifer Rankin, as I pass over to Maanvi Singh, who will be keeping you informed with the latest news on the war in Ukraine.

The leader of the Democrats in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, has said he plans to add provisions to the $33bn Ukraine aid package that will allow the United States to seize Russian oligarchs’ assets and send money derived from them to Ukraine.

In comments reported by Reuters, Schumer said:

Ukraine needs all the help it can get and, at the same time, we need all the assets we can put together to give Ukraine the aid it needs.

The US president, Joe Biden, last week proposed $33bn in military, economic and humanitarian aid, more than twice the US assistance to Ukraine to date.

A senior Republican lawmaker said on Sunday that the request was likely to be approved swiftly. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and ranking member of the House foreign affairs committee, told US media that he expected the chamber would look favourably on the request.

Time is of the essence. The next two to three weeks are going to be very pivotal and very decisive in this war. And I don’t think we have a lot of time to waste. I wish we had [Biden’s request] a little bit sooner, but we have it now.

Paula Erizanu

When a string of mysterious explosions hit government buildings in Transnistria, the Moscow-backed separatist region of Moldova, there was no immediate claim of responsibility. But for Pasha, a 24-year old journalist from the breakaway region’s capital, Tiraspol, this week’s blasts were a clear sign that it was time to get out.

“There was a chance that there would be more attacks, and it’s no fun waiting to find out where would be hit next,” he said. Adding to the uncertainty were growing rumours that men in the region would be mobilised to fight alongside Russian troops across the border in Ukraine.

So Pasha, his mother and his friend, fellow journalist Maxim, 23, packed their essentials and drove to the Moldovan capital, Chișinău, where they are staying with relatives. They are hoping to return home, but other friends who left Transnistria have already fled to Turkey, Poland or the Czech Republic.

Paula Erizanu reports from Chișinău on the growing concern that Ukraine’s neighbour Moldova could be dragged into the conflict.

Eighty civilians including women and children have been evacuated from the Mariupol steelworks, according to Russia’s defence ministry.

Citing the ministry, Russian state news agency Ria Novosti said 80 people had been evacuated to Bezimenne in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, the eastern Ukrainian territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. They were said to be receiving food, accommodation and medical care.

One person was injured in a fire on a Russian defence ministry facility in the southern Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, Belgorod’s regional governor has said, Reuters reports.

Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said a local resident suffered minor injuries and his life was not in danger. Images posted to social media showed a large funnel of smoke rising above the ground. Reuters was not able to verify the reports.

Russia last month accused Ukraine of a helicopter attack on a fuel depot in Belgorod, for which Kyiv denied responsibility.

Pictures have emerged of the first people to leave the area near the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, after the UN confirmed that an evacuation operation was underway.

Azovstal steel plant employee Natalia Usmanova (L), 37, who was evacuated from Mariupol, is seen along with other evacuees near a temporary accommodation centre in the village of Bezimenne in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine May 1, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
Azovstal steel plant employee Natalia Usmanova (left), 37, who was evacuated from Mariupol, along with other evacuees near a temporary accommodation centre today in the village of Bezimenne in the Donetsk region, Ukraine. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Civilians who left the area near Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol walk accompanied by a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at a temporary accommodation centre in the village of Bezimenne in Russian-separatist eastern Ukraine. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
Civilians who left the area near Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol walk accompanied by a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at a temporary accommodation centre in the village of Bezimenne in Russian-separatist eastern Ukraine. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Civilians who left the area near Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol walk accompanied by a service member of pro-Russian troops at a temporary accommodation centre during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the village of Bezimenne in eastern Ukraine. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
Civilians who left the area near Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol walk accompanied by a service member of pro-Russian troops at a temporary accommodation centre during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the village of Bezimenne in eastern Ukraine. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

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