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EU to lend €3 billion in coronavirus aid to Eastern Europe, Tunisia and Jordan

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Russian forces and remaining Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol continue to fight pitched battles as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed hope for a ceasefire would take place to evacuate more civilians from the devastated compound.

After ten weeks of brutal shelling that left the city largely in rubble, Russian fighters entered the massive steelworks, where around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters and a few hundred civilians took refuge in tunnels and bunkers deep beneath the surface.

Russian forces have intensified their attacks on the factory in recent days, Ukrainian forces said, and may seek to ransack it by May 9, when Russia celebrates Victory Day, the most patriotic holiday in the world. country, commemorating the defeat of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany in 1945. .

“The Russian occupiers are focused on blocking and attempting to destroy Ukrainian units in the Azovstal region,” the Ukrainian military said in a May 5 statement. “With aircraft support, Russia resumed the offensive in order to take control of the factory.”

The fall of Mariupol would be a great success for President Vladimir Putin, depriving Ukraine of a vital port, allowing Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and freeing up troops to fight elsewhere in Donbass, the eastern industrial region which the Kremlin says is now its primary focus.

The plight of civilians locked in the factory with little food or water has drawn international attention and led to calls from world leaders for Russia to allow their evacuation.

Guterres told the UN Security Council on May 5 that a third operation was underway to evacuate civilians from Azovstal. In joint efforts with the Red Cross, the UN has helped nearly 500 civilians flee the area over the past week.

“I hope continued coordination with Moscow and Kyiv will lead to more humanitarian pauses to allow civilians to safely emerge from the fighting and for aid to reach those most in need,” Guterres said.

“We must continue to do everything we can to get people out of these hells,” he said.

António Guterres declined to give details of the new operation “to avoid jeopardizing a possible success”.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on her social media page that people would be evacuated from Mariupol on May 6 at noon, but gave no further details.

Russia had earlier announced that it would open a humanitarian corridor from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Moscow time on May 5, 6 and 7 from the Azovstal plant to evacuate civilians.

Although the Kremlin claimed on May 5 that the corridor was “working,” Ukraine has not confirmed that anyone was released from the plant that day.

Skepticism remains about the likelihood of an evacuation, as previous Russian ceasefire announcements have failed.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett discussed the humanitarian crisis in Azovstal with Putin during a May 5 call.

Bennett’s office said in a statement following talks between the two leaders that Putin had “promised” to allow the evacuation of citizens through a UN and Red Cross humanitarian corridor.

In a statement released by the Kremlin, Putin told Bennett that kyiv should order the remaining Ukrainian fighters inside the steelworks to lay down their arms.

Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the major developments on the invasion of Russia, how kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and the Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.

With Russian forces mired in stubborn Ukrainian resistance along the entire eastern front line, a frustrated Kremlin has accused the West of preventing a “swift” end to its military invasion by supplying arms and intelligence to the country.

“The United States, Britain and NATO as a whole pass intelligence … to the Ukrainian Armed Forces on an ongoing basis,” Peskov told reporters.

“Coupled with the flow of weapons that these countries are sending to Ukraine, these are all actions that do not contribute to the rapid completion of the operation,” he said, adding that this was “unable to hinder the achievement” of the objectives of Russia’s military operation.

Russia seems to have already given up on its initial objective: to take the capital and install a regime favorable to the Kremlin.

After suffering heavy casualties in the first month of the war by spreading its forces too thin, Russia has since regrouped to focus its efforts on taking eastern Ukraine.

However, Russian forces continue to face stiff resistance and suffer casualties, which has many military experts doubting their ability to achieve their smaller goals.

Zelensky, meanwhile, on May 5 launched a global crowdfunding platform — United24 — to help kyiv win the war and rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

“Every donation counts for victory,” he said in English in a video on his Twitter page.

“With one click, you can donate funds to protect our defenders, save our civilians and rebuild Ukraine,” Zelensky said. mentioned in the video.

WATCH: In the first stage of the operation to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal steelworks, which is under attack by Russian forces in Mariupol, more than 150 people were evacuated by bus. Those who came out told harrowing stories on May 3 of bodies strewn around the factory.

Later in the day, Zelenskiy addressed by video a conference in Warsaw devoted to supporting the war effort and the reconstruction of Ukraine.

Referring to the US-led initiative to rebuild Europe after World War II, the Ukrainian leader called on the West to launch a similar Marshall Plan to help his country recover from the massive destruction caused by the Russian military campaign.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the conference raised $6.5 billion for Ukraine.

Discussing ways to support kyiv financially, EU President Charles Michel said on May 5 that the bloc should confiscate and sell the Russian assets it has seized and use the profits to rebuild Ukraine, making echo an idea already launched by the United States.

The EU said early last month it had frozen 30 billion euros ($32 billion) in assets linked to blacklisted Russian and Belarusian people.

Meanwhile, the United States announced on May 5 that it had seized a $300 million yacht in Fiji belonging to Russian billionaire Suliman Kerimov.

In addition to seizures, the West continues to impose sanctions to weaken Russia’s ability to conduct its current military campaign and future aggression.

A day after the European Union announced its intention to limit imports of Russian oil at all levels, the United Kingdom said on May 5 that it had sanctioned Evraz, a Russian steel producer whose products are essential for the national railway industry.

Russia uses its rail network to ship weapons and troops to its border with Ukraine.

Marking “another small victory”, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced on May 4 that 344 women, children and elderly people had been safely evacuated from Mariupol.

But his announcement was clouded by an Associated Press report that took stock of a previous Russian airstrike on a Mariupol theater converted into a shelter for around 600 people, doubling previous estimates by Ukrainian officials.

In neighboring Belarus, the armed forces launched “surprise” large-scale exercises on May 4 to test their combat readiness, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said.

The British Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin on May 5 that Russia will likely try to “inflate the threat” posed by Belarusian army exercises in an attempt to pin down Ukrainian forces in the Belarusian border area. to prevent them from being deployed to the front line in eastern Ukraine.

Minsk aided the invasion of Russia by allowing the use of Belarusian territory to stage the attack.

Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed in an interview with AP on May 5 that he had information showing that Ukraine had planned to attack Belarus, without producing any evidence.

Lukashenka has been shunned by the international community since claiming victory in a presidential election in August 2020 which the opposition says was rigged, and sparked a wave of violence to quell mass protests afterwards. .

In the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, supported by Moscow, a television channel reported that shots were fired near one of its border crossing points with Ukraine.

The May 5 report, which follows several similar alleged incidents in the Moscow-backed region of Transnistria since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, could not be independently verified.

kyiv has warned that Russia wants to destabilize the region to create a pretext for military intervention in Moldova, which also borders NATO member Romania.

With reporting from Reuters, AP, BBC and AFP