Hopes dimmed for the swift evacuation of more Ukrainian civilians from a steel factory-turned-fortress in the ruined city of Mariupol, as Russia allegedly resumed heavy shelling of the Azovstal plant after about 100 people left the complex during a brief ceasefire.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the departure of the civilians on Sunday night in an operation overseen by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The first civilians to be evacuated from the giant steel plant in Mariupol arrived on Monday in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia after an overnight bus journey across the front-line.
“Our house is completely destroyed. We had a two-storey building, it’s not there anymore. It burned to the ground,” said Natalya Tsyntomirska, a Mariupol native who reached Zaporizhzhia on Monday in a funeral service van.
“Yesterday, as soon as the buses left Azovstal with the evacuees, new shelling began immediately,” Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the mayor of Mariupol, told Ukrainian television on Monday.
No Ukrainian officials are now in the port city on the Azov Sea, which has been besieged by Russian forces and devastated by heavy bombing for more than two months.
Denys Shleha, the commander of a Ukrainian national guard brigade who is in Azovstal, said that “as soon as the last civilian [from the first group] left the plant, it came under fire again from all kinds of weapons”.
He said several hundred civilians remained in the bunkers and tunnels of Azovstal, including about 20 children, and called for them to be evacuated urgently along with about 500 injured soldiers.
Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk described the situation as “a real humanitarian catastrophe” and said people inside the plant were running short of food, water and medical supplies.
“I hope that [on Monday] all the necessary conditions will be met to continue the evacuation of people from Mariupol,” Mr Zelenskiy said, calling negotiations on the issue “very complex”.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced since Russia launched an all-out invasion of its neighbour in late February, and Moscow is now focusing its attacks on eastern Ukraine, where several civilians died and were injured in shelling over the past 24 hours.
Officials in Odesa said an unspecified number of people were killed and injured when missiles hit an "infrastructure facility" on Monday evening. Earlier, Ukraine released footage of what it said was a drone hitting two Russian naval boats with rockets in the Black Sea.
The Kremlin has banned people in Russia from describing its actions as a “war” or “invasion”, and insists instead that it is conducting a “special operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine, which is a pro-western democracy where 42 million people lived until February.
Israel denounced Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday over comments he made on Italian television when asked how Ukraine could be under "Nazi" influence when Mr Zelenskiy was Jewish.
“When they say ‘What sort of nazification is this if we are Jews’, well I think that Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it means nothing … For a long time now we’ve been hearing the wise Jewish people say that the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves,” Mr Lavrov said.
Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid said Moscow's ambassador to the country would be summoned for "a tough talk", and accused Mr Lavrov of making an "unforgivable, scandalous statement … and we expect an apology."
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennet said: “Such lies are intended to accuse the Jews themselves of the most horrific crimes in history that were committed against them … The use of the Holocaust of the Jewish people for political purposes must stop immediately.” – Additional reporting: Reuters