Russia calls on remaining Mariupol defenders to surrender as evacuation convoy heads to city

Kyiv’s besieged troops in Azovstal steelworks hold out despite ‘bloody fighting’

The Kremlin has called on Ukraine to order the last defenders of Mariupol to surrender.

The demand came as Kyiv's troops in the devastated city said they still retained control of the vast Azovstal steelworks despite "heavy, bloody fighting" and intense Russian bombardment.

A senior United Nations official said a convoy of buses was heading to Mariupol overnight in the hope of evacuating an estimated 200 remaining civilians from Azovstal, where Russia claims they are being used as human shields by Ukrainian "nationalist" fighters.

In Warsaw, a host of countries and major companies pledged $6.5 billion (€6.2 billion) to support and rebuild Ukraine. And Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told the Dáil that as of April 29th, Ireland had frozen about €1.25 billion of Russian assets.


Russian president Vladimir Putin told Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett that his troops would give civilians safe passage from Azovstal and he also apologised for claims made by Moscow's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov that Adolf Hitler "had Jewish blood".

“The Russian military remains ready to provide the safe departure of civilians. As for the militants remaining at Azovstal, the Kyiv authorities should order them to lay down their weapons,” the Kremlin said Mr Putin had told Mr Bennett during a phone call on Thursday.

The Israeli premier's office said he had asked Mr Putin to "examine humanitarian options" for evacuating Mariupol following a conversation on Thursday with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“The prime minister accepted the apology of President Putin for comments by Lavrov and thanked him for clarifying the president’s view of the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust,” Mr Bennett’s office added.

When asked this week how Russia could claim to be “denazifying” Ukraine when Mr Zelenskiy is a Jew, Moscow’s top diplomat said he thought Hitler had Jewish blood and that “wise Jews” said “the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves”.

From inside Azovstal's network of bunkers and tunnels, Ukrainian military capt Sviatoslav Palamar said "heavy, bloody fighting is taking place".

“Once again, the Russians violated the promise of a truce and did not allow the evacuation of civilians who continue to hide in the basements . . . I call on the world community to evacuate civilians,” he said in an appeal posted on social media.

He also urged Mr Zelenskiy to “take care of wounded soldiers who are dying in terrible agony from improper treatment [and to] provide an opportunity to retrieve the bodies of soldiers so that Ukrainians can bid farewell to their heroes”.

Humanitarian convoy

Azovstal is the last redoubt of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, which has been besieged and bombarded for two months during which city officials say 20,000 civilians may have died. They also accuse Russian troops of burying bodies in mass graves to hide war crimes; Moscow denies the claim and insists its soldiers are striking only military targets.

UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths said on Thursday evening that a "convoy is proceeding to get to Azovstal by tomorrow morning, hopefully to receive those civilians remaining in that bleak hell for so many weeks and months and to take them back to safety".

About 100 people were evacuated from the plant on Sunday. But since then only a few hundred people from elsewhere in Mariupol have reached Ukrainian-held territory.

"It's in the middle of an active war zone, parts of it have been destroyed, there are people living in tunnels . . . It is very difficult for us to have an exact number," of civilians now in Azovstal, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary general.

Ten weeks after Russia invaded its neighbour, intense artillery exchanges continued in eastern Ukraine, destroying more housing and other infrastructure without delivering significant gains for either side.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe