By ELENA BECATOROS and JON GAMBRELL
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) More civilians have been rescued from the tunnels under a besieged steel plant in Mariupol, a Ukrainian official said Friday, even as fighters holed up at the sprawling complex made their last stand to prevent Moscows complete takeover of the strategic port city.
The fight in the last Ukrainian stronghold of a city reduced to ruins by the Russian onslaught appeared increasingly desperate amid growing speculation that President Vladimir Putin wants to finish the battle for Mariupol so he can present a triumph to the Russian people in time for Mondays Victory Day, the biggest patriotic holiday on the Russian calendar.
Some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters, by Russias most recent estimate, are holed up in a vast maze of tunnels and bunkers beneath Azovstal steelworks and they have repeatedly refused to surrender. Ukraine said a few hundred civilians were also trapped there and as the battle has ramped up in recent days, fears for their safety have only grown.
We conducted another stage of a complex operation to evacuate people from Mariupol and Azovstal. I can say that we managed to take out almost 500 civilians, the head of Ukraines presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said Friday on the Telegram messaging app.
A woman walks past tanks of Donetsk People’s Republic militia in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, May 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)
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