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Red Cross tries again to escort evacuation convoy out of Mariupol

The Red Cross was renewing efforts to evacuate civilians in a convoy from the besieged port of Mariupol on Saturday. Meanwhile, Russian forces seem to be regrouping for attacks in southeast Ukraine.

On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross sent a team to lead a convoy of about 54 Ukrainian buses and other private vehicles out of the southeastern Ukrainian city, but they were forced to turn back. The organisers of the convoy said they were unable to proceed.

“They will try again on Saturday to facilitate the safe passage of civilians,” the Red Cross said in a statement on Friday. A previous evacuation attempt in early March also failed.

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was hopeful about the Mariupol evacuations.

“I think that today or maybe tomorrow we will hear good news regarding the evacuation of the inhabitants of Mariupol,” Oleksiy Arestovych told Ukrainian television.

Encircled since the early days of Russia’s invasion, Mariupol has been Moscow’s main target in Ukraine’s southeastern region of Donbas. Tens of thousands of civilians are trapped there with scant access to food and water. Russia and Ukraine have agreed to establish various humanitarian corridors during the war to allow the evacuation of civilians from cities, and have traded blame when evacuations failed.

Seven such corridors were planned for Saturday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, including one for people leaving Mariupol by private transport.

Russian shift focus to the east of Ukraine

After failing to take a major Ukrainian city since launching the invasion on February 24, Russia says it has now shifted its focus to the southeast, where it has backed separatist forces since 2014.

In an early morning video address, Zelenskyy said Russian troops had moved towards Donbas and they heavily bombarded the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

Russia has depicted its drawdown of forces near Kyiv as a goodwill gesture in peace negotiations. Ukraine and its allies say Russian forces have been forced to regroup after suffering heavy losses.

In the early hours of Saturday, Russian missiles hit the cities of Poltava and Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, Dmitry Lunin, head of the Poltava region, wrote in an online post.

He said infrastructure and residential buildings had been hit east of Kyiv, but he had no casualty estimates.

Russia’s defence ministry said high-precision air-launched missiles had disabled military airfields in Poltava and Dnipro.

British military intelligence said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces continued to advance against withdrawing Russian forces near Kyiv and that Russian troops had abandoned Hostomel airport in a northwestern suburb of the capital, where there has been fighting since the first day.

The British daily assessment also said that Ukrainian forces had secured a key corridor in eastern Kharkiv after heavy fighting.

Pope implicitly criticise Putin over the invasion

Pope Francis came the closest he has yet to implicitly criticising Putin over the invasion on a visit to the Mediterranean island of Malta.

“Once again, some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts, while ordinary people sense the need to build a future that will either be shared or not be at all,” he said.

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