Russia pulls back from north as Red Cross pushes Mariupol rescue
ZAPORIZHZHIA – Ukraine on Saturday said Russian forces were making a “rapid retreat” from northern areas around the capital Kyiv and the city of Chernigiv as the Red Cross prepared for a fresh evacuation effort from the besieged southern port of Mariupol.
Ukraine said Russian forces were concentrating in the east and south, a day after thousands of people from Mariupol and surrounding Russian-held areas escaped in a convoy of buses and private cars.
“Russia is prioritising a different tactic: falling back on the east and south,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on social media.
He said that while Russian forces appeared to be pulling back from Kyiv and Chernigiv, their aim was to “control a vast stretch of occupied territory and set up there in a powerful way”.
Podolyak said Russian forces would “dig in there, set up air defence, drastically reduce losses and dictate terms.
Moscow’s aim was to “drastically reduce losses & dictate terms”, he said on Twitter on Saturday. “Without heavy weapons we won’t be able to drive (Russia) out”.
Mariupol has been an important Ukrainian hold-out, suffering weeks of Russian shelling, with at least 5,000 residents killed, local officials said.
The estimated 160,000 who remain face shortages of food, water and electricity. “We have managed to rescue 6,266 people, including 3,071 people from Mariupol,” Zelensky said in a video address earlier on Saturday.
Dozens of buses carrying Mariupol residents who had escaped the devastated city arrived Friday in Zaporizhzhia, 200 kilometres (120 miles) to the northwest, according to an AFP reporter on the scene. The buses carried people who had been able to flee Mariupol to Russian-occupied Berdiansk.
“We were crying when we reached this area. We were crying when we saw soldiers at the checkpoint with Ukrainian crests on their arms,” said Olena, who carried her young daughter in her arms. “My house was destroyed. I saw it in photos. Our city doesn’t exist anymore.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said its team headed to Mariupol to try and conduct an evacuation was forced to turn back Friday after “arrangements and conditions made it impossible to proceed”.
“Russia is prioritising a different tactic: falling back on the east and south,” Ukrainian presidential adviser says