ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Ukrainian civilians evacuated from the devastated city of Mariupol brought new stories of survival and terror with them on Monday as Western countries worked to turn their ever-growing promises of aid into action, preparing billions of dollars in military and economic aid, an oil embargo and other once unthinkable steps.
Despite early morning shelling, the cessation of the evacuation, overseen by the Red Cross and the United Nations, was seen as the best and possibly last hope for hundreds of civilians trapped for weeks in bunkers beneath the wreckage of the Azovstal steel mill, and an unknown number scattered across the ruins of the largely abandoned city.
Those trapped in Mariupol outside the steel mill described a fragile existence, living on Russian rations cooked outside on wood fires amid daily shelling that left corpses in ruins.
Yelena Gibert, a psychologist who reached the Ukrainian-occupied territory with her teenage son on Monday, described “hopelessness and despair” in Mariupol and said residents “started talking about suicide because they are stuck in this situation”.
Heavy fighting in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk has brought minimal gains to the troops of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Western officials say. But the Russians continued to fire rockets and grenades at Ukrainian military positions, towns, villages and infrastructure along a 300-mile front, including bombing the Azovstal factory, where the last remaining Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol have gone down.
On Monday, Ukraine said it had used Turkish-made drones to destroy two Russian patrol vessels off the coast of Odessa on the Black Sea, just before Russian missiles hit the city, killing an unknown number and damaging a religious building.
The US State Department said Russia’s war goals now include annexing Donetsk and Luhansk — partially controlled before the February 24 invasion by Russian-backed separatists — as soon as possible by mid-May, and possibly the southern Kherson region.
Michael Carpenter, US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said: “We believe the Kremlin can hold mock referendums to try and add a veneer of democratic or electoral legitimacy, and this is straight out of the Kremlin’s playbook. ” , told reporters at a State Department briefing in Washington.
As the war continues and evidence of atrocities mounts, the West’s hunger for retaliation has grown that would have been dismissed outright just a few months ago. The US Senate is preparing to take on President Biden’s $33 billion aid package for Ukraine, including a significant increase in heavy weapons, and the European Union is expected this week to impose an embargo on Russian oil, a important step for a bloc whose members have long been dependent on Russian energy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, days after becoming the top US official to visit Kiev since the war started, met in Warsaw on Monday with President Andrzej Duda of Poland, in a bid to strengthen Washington’s partnership with a key NATO ally. which has absorbed millions of Ukrainian refugees and helped direct weapons to the battlefield.
Ms. Pelosi called for the “strongest military response, the strongest sanctions” to punish Russia for the invasion, despite Moscow’s threats of retaliation against the West. “They have already fulfilled their threat that killed children and families, civilians and the rest,” she said.
More than two months after the invasion, Russia is struggling to gain and hold territory, according to a senior Pentagon official who briefed reporters on the background to discuss intelligence. The official called Russia’s latest offensive in eastern Ukraine, the region known as Donbas, “very cautious, very lukewarm” and, in some cases, “anemic”.
“We are seeing minimal progress at best,” the official said Monday, citing increasing Russian progress in cities and towns. “They will invade, declare victory and then withdraw their troops, only to let the Ukrainians take it.”
Britain’s defense intelligence said that of the battalion’s 120 tactical groups that Russia had used during the war — about 65 percent of its entire forces on the ground — more than a quarter probably “had rendered combat ineffective”.
Some of Russia’s most elite units, including the airborne troops, have “suffered the highest level of exhaustion”, the UK review said:and added that it would “probably take years for Russia to reassemble these forces”.
As fighting raged in eastern and southern Ukraine, Moscow faced growing diplomatic resistance on Monday after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said Jews were “the greatest anti-Semites.”
Lavrov made the comments on Sunday to an Italian television journalist who had asked him why Russia claimed to be “denazifying” Ukraine when its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was Jewish and members of his family had died in the Holocaust.
Mr. Lavrov replied that he thought Hitler himself had Jewish roots, a claim rejected by historians, adding: “We have long heard the wise Jewish people say that the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to Israel to explain Mr Lavrov’s comments, while Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid demanded an apology. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said of Mr Lavrov’s comments: “The purpose of such lies is to accuse the Jews themselves of the most horrific crimes in history, committed against them.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader and highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the United States, called Mr. Lavrov’s comments “disgusting.”
Those who escaped Mariupol and reached the southern city of Zaporizhzhya managed to survive in a Russian-occupied city crushed by heavy shelling, where more than 20,000 civilians were killed, Ukrainian officials said. About 20 civilians sheltering under the Azovstal mill left the city on Saturday, about 100 did so on Sunday and an unknown number followed on Monday.
Every morning at about 6 a.m., Ms. Gibert said, residents lined up outside the factory for the rations distributed by Russian soldiers. First they had to listen to the Russian national anthem and then to the national anthem of the separatist Ukrainian region known as the Donetsk People’s Republic, she said.
A number would be scribbled on each resident’s hand, and then they would wait, sometimes all day, for boxes of food, Mrs. Gibert said. A typical ration box contained macaroni, rice, oatmeal, canned meat, sweet and condensed milk, sugar, butter. It was supposed to take a month, but it didn’t always — especially if it was shared with a teenage boy, Ms Gibert said.
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
Evacuation of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials promised to continue a large-scale evacuation from Mariupol despite renewed Russian shelling. The evacuation is seen as the best and possibly last hope for hundreds of civilians sheltering in bunkers beneath the wreckage of the Azovstal steel plant.
In a city where many residential buildings have been destroyed and the rest had no electricity, heat or, most often, running water, Ms. Gibert said she and her son were among the lucky ones.
“Our apartment is still partially intact,” she said. “On the one hand, we have all our windows.”
Anastasiya Dembitskaya, 35, who reached Zaporizhzhya with her two children and a dog, said a dwindling fighting in Mariupol in recent weeks had returned spotty telephone service and opened small markets selling food from Russia and the Russia controlled Ukrainian. territory at stratospheric prices.
“At least they’ve started removing the garbage, which is good,” said Mrs. Dembitskaya. “The bodies and the garbage and the wires that were everywhere.”
Ksenia Safonova, who also arrived in Zaporizhzhia, said she and her parents had planned to leave Mariupol weeks ago but were trapped by rocket fire.
“When we tried to leave, heavy shelling started,” she said. “Everything exploded. Jets flew over and it was too scary to leave.”
When food became scarce, she said, her family relied on the rations distributed by Russian troops. She pulled out a can of canned meat that she said was part of a Russian humanitarian aid package. The expiration date was January 31, nearly a month before the invasion began.
On April 26, Ms. Safonova and her family were finally able to leave Mariupol in a minibus with six other people. At checkpoints on the way to Zaporizhzhya, she said, Russian soldiers insulted her and her family and warned that Ukrainian troops would not welcome them and could shell them if they arrived.
Once, she said, the soldiers tried to trick them into revealing their loyalty to Ukraine.
“At a checkpoint they yelled ‘Glory to Ukraine’ to see if we would yell, ‘Glory to the heroes’, although of course we knew that would end badly,” she said, referring to a patriotic greeting among Ukrainians during the war has become widespread.
“We still know the truth is on our side,” she said.
Michael Schwirtz reported from Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, and Michael Levenson From New York. Reporting contributed by Lara Jakes and Eric Schmitt from Washington, Myra Noveck from Jerusalem, Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland, Monika Pronczuk from Brussels and Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London.