Russia invades Ukraine: Thousands evacuated from besieged Mariupol

Russia invades Ukraine: Thousands evacuated from besieged Mariupol
The New Arab is providing live updates of what's been happening on the ground and additional analysis on the conflict's significance.
12 min read
02 April, 2022

More than 3,000 people have escaped Ukraine's besieged region of Mariupol in a convoy of buses and private cars, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday as the Red Cross prepared a fresh evacuation effort for the devastated southern port.

The city has faced weeks of ferocious Russian shelling, with at least 5,000 residents killed, according to local authorities, and 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 early Saturday.

Giving details of Friday's evacuation efforts along humanitarian corridors, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 42 buses carrying Mariupol residents had departed from the city of Berdiansk, 70 kilometres (44 miles) southwest, while another 12 had left Melitopol with local residents on board.

"That's more than 2,500 people. More than 300 private cars follow the buses. All of them are now heading to the city of Zaporizhzhia," she said on Telegram, adding more evacuations of Mariupol were planned for Saturday.

Dozens of buses carrying Mariupol residents who had escaped the devastated city arrived Friday in Zaporizhzhia, about 200 kilometres 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 said its team headed to Mariupol to conduct an evacuation effort was forced to turn back Friday after "arrangements and conditions made it impossible to proceed". It said it would try again Saturday.

The New Arab is providing live updates of what's been happening on the ground in Ukraine and additional analysis on the conflict's significance. 

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6:00 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

The New Arab's live coverage of the latest from the Russian invasion of Ukraine concludes for today.

Here were the key developments from Saturday:

Kyiv says Russians retreating from north

Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhaylo Podolyak said Russian forces are making a "rapid retreat" from northern areas around the capital Kyiv and the city of Chernigiv.

The bodies of at least 20 men in civilian clothes were found lying in a single street after Ukrainian forces retook the town of Bucha near Kyiv from Russian troops, according to AFP journalists.

Mariupol evacuation

The Red Cross prepared for a fresh evacuation effort from the besieged southern port of Mariupol after it was forced to turn back Friday when "arrangements and conditions made it impossible to proceed".

Some residents managed to flee the region Friday by taking a convoy of buses and private cars to Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhzhia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says over 3,000 people have been rescued from Mariupol, though it is not immediately clear if he is referring to the bus passengers.

Ukrainian journalist found dead

Ukrainian photographer Maks Levin was found dead near Kyiv after going missing more than two weeks ago, the government says.

"According to preliminary information, unarmed Maxim Levin was killed by servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces with two shots from small fire arms," prosecutors said on Telegram.

Pope urges 'shared response' on refugees

The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine has passed 4.1 million, according to the United Nations.

Pope Francis called for "a broad-based and shared response" to "the growing migration emergency", saying "some countries cannot respond to the entire problem, while others remain indifferent onlookers."

He added that he is still considering a visit to Kyiv.

Russian protesters detained

Russian police detained 176 people Saturday at protests in various cities around the country against Moscow's military operation in Ukraine, according to OVD-Info, an NGO.

US commits $300m in 'assistance'

The US Defence Department announced it is allotting $300 million in "security assistance" for Ukraine to bolster its defence capabilities, adding to the $1.6 billion Washington has already committed since Russia's invasion.

Join us tomorrow for the latest updates from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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4:45 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Ukrainian president says retreating Russian troops are leaving mines

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russian soldiers of deliberately mining areas in northern Ukraine as they withdraw or are pushed out by Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine says its troops have retaken control of more than 30 towns and villages in the Kyiv region since Russia announced this week it would scale down its operations around the capital to focus on battles in the east.

"In the north of our country, the invaders are leaving. It is slow but noticeable. In some places they are being kicked out with fighting. Elsewhere they're abandoning the positions themselves," Zelensky said in a video address released on Saturday, without citing evidence.

"They are mining all this territory. Houses are mined, equipment is mined, even the bodies of dead people."

Russia's defence ministry did not reply to a request for comment on the allegations, and Reuters could not independently verify them.

Zelensky made the allegations in a video address [Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty]
3:50 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

More than 4.1 million Ukrainian refugees flee war

Nearly 4.14 million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia's full-scale invasion began on 24 February, with tens of thousands continuing to flood into neighbouring countries each day, UN numbers show.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said Saturday that 4,137,842 Ukrainians had fled in just over five weeks, an increase of 34,966 on the figure given Friday.

Women and children account for 90 percent of those who have left Ukraine, with men aged 18 to 60 eligible for military call-up and unable to leave.

The UN's International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said that in addition to Ukrainian refugees, nearly 205,500 non-Ukrainians living, studying or working in the country have also left.

Nearly 6.48 million people were meanwhile estimated to be internally displaced within Ukraine as of mid-March, according to the IOM.

That puts the total number of people displaced by the conflict at well over 10 million, or around a quarter of Ukraine's total population.

Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine had a population of 37 million in the regions under government control, excluding Russia-annexed Crimea and the pro-Russian separatist regions in the east.

Nearly six out of 10 Ukrainian refugees - 2,405,703 so far - have crossed into Poland, according to the UN tally. More than 1.1 million of them are children.


3:09 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Death toll from strike on government building in Mykolaiv now 35: governor

At least 35 people have been confirmed killed as a result of Tuesday's rocket strike on the regional administration building in Ukraine's southern port city of Mykolaiv, Governor Vitaliy Kim said in an online post on Saturday.

Rescue workers have continued to dismantle the rubble and search for victims after the strike blasted a hole through the side of the building in central Mykolaiv.


2:50 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

More than 170 detained in Ukraine protests across Russia

Russian police detained 176 people Saturday at protests against Moscow's military operation in Ukraine, an NGO said.

OVD-Info, which monitors arrests during protests, said police had detained at least 176 people during demonstrations in 14 cities in Russia.

An AFP journalist in Moscow witnessed more than 20 people detained by riot police under heavy snowfall in the capital's central park Zaryadye, a short distance from the Kremlin.

Police escorted away people sitting on park benches or just standing around without explaining the reasons for the detention, the reporter said.

One of the detained women held a bouquet of white tulips, while another exclaimed "No to war in Ukraine!" several times as she was being taken away.

A national sit-in on Saturday against what Moscow calls its "military operation" in Ukraine was announced on social media by activists in around 30 Russian cities.

The organisers said in a statement they wanted to protest "the collapse of (Russia's) economy", against Russian President Vladimir Putin and to demand freedom for jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

"Russia deserves peace, democracy and prosperity," they said.

In Russia's second city, Saint Petersburg, AFP saw multiple arrests near the city's Legislative Assembly where around 40 people gathered, although it was unclear how many were there to protest.

"Nobody will come, all the active ones were detained at previous protests," said 30-year-old Sergei Gorelov, who said he came to "take a look and show support if necessary".

"I just came to stand around, to somehow express my protest to everything that is happening. It's scary to protest actively," Galina Sedova, 50, told AFP at the scene.

Protesters risk fines and possible prison sentences by taking to the streets.

OVD-Info says that over 15,000 people have been detained at rallies across the country to protest Russian military action in Ukraine, which was launched on 24 February.

Protests in solidarity with Ukraine have taken place worldwide [Anadolu via Getty]
1:01 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Ukrainian journalist found dead near Kyiv: presidential aide

Ukrainian photographer and documentary maker Maks Levin has been found dead near the capital Kyiv after going missing more than two weeks ago, presidential aide Andriy Yermak said on Saturday.

"He went missing in the conflict area on 13 March in the Kyiv region. His body was found near the village of Guta Mezhygirska on 1 April," he said on Telegram.

The Institute of Mass Information, a non-governmental organisation, cited preliminary findings from the prosecutor's office saying that the journalist was killed by "two shots" from the Russian military.

Levin, 40, a father of four, had been working with Ukrainian and international media.

During fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014, he managed to escape encirclement in a town where hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were killed.

12:10 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

UK prevents use of private jet linked to Russian oligarchs

British transport minister Grant Shapps said on Saturday he has prevented the use of another private jet that has links to Russian oligarchs.

"We won’t stand by and watch those who’ve made millions through (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s patronage live their lives in peace as innocent blood is shed," Shapps said on Twitter.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to prevent the aircraft from taking off from London Luton Airport.

The aircraft will remain at the airport while officials investigate further whether it falls under the recent sanctions legislation banning all aircraft connected with Russia, following its invasion of Ukraine.

The DfT said it would not be commenting on the aircraft's ownership while it investigates.

The department has already detained one private helicopter belonging to HeliCo Group LLC and two private jets.

The two jets belong to Eugene Shvidler, a sanctioned billionaire business associate of Roman Abramovich.

Russia denies targeting civilians in an invasion that began on 24 February when Putin launched what he called a "special military operation" in Ukraine. 

11:30 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Pope says he is considering trip to Kyiv

Pope Francis said on Saturday that he was considering a trip to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Asked by a reporter on the plane taking him from Rome to Malta if he was considering an invitation made by Ukrainian political and religious authorities, Francis answered: "Yes, it is on the table". He gave no further details.

Francis has been invited by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Ukraine's Byzantine-rite Catholic Church and Ukraine's ambassador to the Vatican, Andriy Yurash.

He has spoken on the phone with Zelenskiy and Shevchuk.

Since the invasion, which Russia calls a "special military operation" to demilitarise Ukraine, the pope has strongly condemned what he has called an "unjustified aggression" and denounced "atrocities."

But he has only referred to Russia directly in prayers, such as during a special global event for peace on March 25.

Pope Francis arrived in Malta on Saturday [AFP via Getty]
11:14 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Russian forces in 'rapid retreat' from northern areas

Russian forces are making a "rapid retreat" from areas around the capital Kyiv and the city of Chernigiv in northern Ukraine, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on Saturday.

"With the rapid retreat of the Russians from the Kyiv and Chernigiv regions... it is completely clear that Russia is prioritising a different tactic: falling back on the east and south," he said on social media.

Earlier on Saturday, British military intelligence said Ukrainian forces continue to advance against withdrawing Russian forces in the vicinity of Kyiv.

Russian forces are also reported to have withdrawn from Hostomel airport near the capital, which has been subject to fighting since the first day of the conflict, Britain's Ministry of Defence said in a regular bulletin.

"In the east of Ukraine, Ukrainian forces have secured a key route in eastern Kharkiv after heavy fighting," the ministry added.

8:42 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Seven humanitarian corridors planned for evacuations on Saturday

Seven humanitarian corridors to evacuate people from Ukraine's besieged regions are planned for Saturday, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

The planned corridors include one for people evacuating by private transport from the city of Mariupol and by buses for Mariupol residents out of the city of Berdyansk, Vereshchuk said.

The deputy PM said that more than 3,000 people have escaped the besieged region of Mariupol in a convoy of buses and private cars.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said a team sent to help evacuate thousands of civilians from Mariupol on Friday had been forced to turn around, but would try again Saturday.

(Reuters, AFP)

8:37 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Migration, Ukraine to top Pope's agenda on Malta visit

Pope Francis headed to the Mediterranean island nation of Malta on Saturday for a pandemic-delayed weekend visit, aiming to draw attention to Europe’s migration challenge that has only become starker with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Francis is likely to encourage Europe’s embrace of Ukrainian refugees while also urging countries to extend the same welcome to migrants coming from Libya and elsewhere.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said migration will top the agenda for Francis’ trip and said Europe’s reception of Ukrainian refugees was “truly admirable.”

“I hope that this tragic experience can also really help to grow, to increase sensitivity also towards the other migration, the one that comes from the south,” he told Vatican Media.

8:29 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Pentagon commits extra $300m in security aid to Ukraine

The US Defence Department announced Friday that it is allotting $300 million in "security assistance" for Ukraine to bolster the country's defence capabilities, adding to the $1.6 billion Washington has committed since Russia invaded in late February.

The package includes laser-guided rocket systems, drones, ammunition, night-vision devices, tactical secure communications systems, medical supplies and spare parts.

"This decision underscores the United States' unwavering commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in support of its heroic efforts to repel Russia's war of choice," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

The $300 million announced Friday will go towards new contracts for military equipment from the Pentagon's defence industry partners.

One of the technologies included in the announcement are more Switchblade tactical drones.

Dubbed "kamikaze drones," Switchblades can be directed by an operator to find and, when ready, plunge onto a target, exploding on contact.