Ukraine fights to hold eastern bastions as US First Lady visits

The Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9 is an annual celebration of Nazi Germany’s defeat by the Soviet Union in World War II, but this year Moscow will also associate it with its campaign in Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops on Sunday braced themselves to defend their last bastion in the ruined port city of Mariupol, desperate to deny Russia a symbolic victory on the eve of Moscow’s Victory Day celebrations.

Kiev’s allies lent their support, with U.S. First Lady Jill Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau making unannounced visits to Ukraine, and G7 leaders set to video call with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky marked a day to commemorate the end of the 1939-1945 war by comparing Ukraine’s struggle for national survival to the region’s war of resistance against the former Nazi occupiers.

“Evil has returned, in a different uniform, under different slogans, but with the same goal,” he warned, trying to reverse the “anti-Nazi” rhetoric of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“Today, our soldiers, like their ancestors, are fighting side by side to free their homeland from Nazi garbage with the confidence that, as in 1945, the victory will be ours,” Putin said.

The US first lady met her Ukrainian colleague Olena Zelenska at a school housing civilians, including children displaced by the conflict, near Ukraine’s border with Slovakia.

“I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war must stop and that this war has been cruel and that the people of the United States stand behind the people of Ukraine.”

Local mayor Oleksandr Markushyn posted photos on social media and said Trudeau “came to Irpin to see with his own eyes all the horrors that the Russian occupier had inflicted on our city”.

– Tunnel network –

The complex – the last pocket of the Ukrainian resistance in the port city – has acquired symbolic value.

“Surrender is not an option because Russia is not interested in our lives,” he said.

In one of those regions, Lugansk, Ukrainian forces are now building a last line of defense against the city of Severodonetsk, formerly an industrial city of 100,000 inhabitants, now Russia’s next target.

“The bombs fell on the school and unfortunately it was completely destroyed. There were a total of 90 people, 27 were rescued,” he said on Telegram.

Rescue workers were unable to work overnight due to the threat of new strikes, but resumed work on Sunday.

Rescuers were also looking for survivors in the neighboring village of Shepilivka after a strike at a house where 11 people were sheltering in the basement, Gaiday said.

“They asked us if we wanted to go to Russia… or stay and rebuild the city of Mariupol,” said Azovstal evacuee Natalia, speaking on the condition that her full name not be published.

The Russian campaign has met strong opposition — and has prompted Kiev’s western allies to impose potentially crippling sanctions on the Russian economy and Putin’s inner circle.

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