Kremlin says Putin and Macron discussed Mariupol; Azovstal evacuees’ stories of hell

Kremlin says Putin and Macron discussed Mariupol; Azovstal evacuees’ stories of hell
Firefighters extinguish a fire at a children's play area in Gorky Park in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on 3 May 2022 after attacks in and around the city. (Photo: EPA-EFE / SERGEY KOZLOV)

French President Emmanuel Macron held a two-hour call with Vladimir Putin in which he asked the Russian leader to allow evacuations to continue from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Pope Francis said that he’s pushing for a face-to-face meeting with Putin to try to broker an end to the war.

The diplomatic overtures came as defenders of the besieged Azovstal works said that Russian forces were storming the facility. Buses that had evacuated civilians from the port city began to arrive in the relative safety of Zaporizhzhia.

President Joe Biden plans to promote the importance of US and allied weapons for Ukraine’s defence with a visit to a Lockheed Martin plant making Javelin anti-tank missiles.

Read more: Tank-killing Javelin gets Biden nod as Ukraine thins US stash 

Key developments

Azovstal evacuees went through ‘hell’, UN says 

People evacuated from the Azovstal underground shelter in Mariupol have reached Zaporizhzhia, Osnat Lubrani, UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine, said on Twitter. “The people I travelled with told me heartbreaking stories of the hell they went through,” she said. 

A total of 156 women and children who spent more than two months hiding in the Azovstal steelworks have been rescued in two days, according to Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross will continue efforts to help evacuate other people who remain trapped amid ongoing shelling of the plant.

Ukraine accuses Russia of taking grain 

Russian troops have confiscated 400,000 tonnes of grains from areas in Ukraine that they seized, Ukraine’s Agriculture Ministry said in a statement on its website, citing Deputy Minister Taras Vysotskyi.

Russia’s invasion has shut most of Ukraine’s ports and curtailed planting in one of the world’s biggest grain and vegetable oil suppliers. That’s dealt a huge blow to its agricultural sector, which typically ships about five million to six million tonnes of grain each month for Asia, Africa and Europe, fanning concerns of a worsening global hunger crisis.

Putin and Macron discussed Mariupol in call 

The Russian president and his French counterpart exchanged opinions on Ukraine, according to a readout from the Kremlin. It said that Putin informed Macron of Russia’s “special military operation”, and of the evacuation of civilians from Azovstal.

The French side raised the issue of global food security, according to the Kremlin, which said that Putin congratulated Macron on his French presidential election win. 

There was no immediate readout from the Elysee Palace in Paris, beyond that the call lasted around two hours and 10 minutes. 

Germany mulls over sending Kyiv rapid-fire howitzers 

Germany is considering sending seven rapid-fire artillery systems to Ukraine in what would be another step in Berlin’s efforts to bolster Kyiv’s ability to fend off Russian forces with heavy weaponry.

Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht has recommended delivery of the PzH 2000 – a self-propelled, armoured howitzer – but Chancellor Olaf Scholz hasn’t granted final approval, according to officials familiar with the matter. German capabilities have been hampered by years of underfunding, and military leaders have warned that sending howitzers could weaken the country’s defences.




Basketball star Griner ‘wrongfully detained’ in Russia – ESPN  

The US State Department has now classified US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner as being “wrongfully detained” in Russia following her arrest some two months ago, ESPN reported, citing an email from a State Department official. 

Griner’s arrest first became public on March 5, when Russian authorities said she’d been taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport for allegedly smuggling cannabis oil while attempting to return home to the US

Read more here.

Azovstal defenders say Russia is storming plant 

Ukrainian forces trapped in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol are facing a Russian assault, they said on social networks. A leader of the defenders, Sviatoslav Palamar, said in a video posted on Telegram that Russian troops were storming the plant after heavy shelling in which two civilians died. He called on the Ukrainian government to rescue people trapped in the facility.

Modi urged to prod Russia on war 

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, speaking at a joint media event with her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, said she hoped India would influence Russia to end the invasion of Ukraine. 

Denmark “strongly condemns Russia” and Putin “has to stop the war”, Frederiksen said in Copenhagen. Modi said that India appealed for an “immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and for diplomacy to solve the conflict”. 

India buys most of its weapons from Russia and has yet to condemn the Kremlin for its invasion of Ukraine. 

UK to supply Ukraine until goals met – Johnson 

The UK will send Brimstone anti-ship missiles and Stormer anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine in the coming weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in an address to the Parliament in Kyiv. He reiterated the UK’s £300-million package of support, including radars, heavy-lift drones and thousands of night vision devices.

“We will carry on supplying Ukraine, alongside your other friends, with weapons, funding and humanitarian aid, until we have achieved our long-term goal, which must be so to fortify Ukraine that no one will ever dare to attack you again,” Johnson said.

Germany backs Swedish, Finnish Nato membership bids 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged his support for a potential bid from Sweden and Finland to join Nato.

“For us it’s clear,” Scholz told reporters in a joint appearance with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish counterpart Sanna Marin. “If these two countries should decide they want to belong to Nato then they can count on our support.” 




Italian PM urges tighter EU integration on war 

In an address to the European Parliament, Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi, called for a swift rethink of European Union mechanisms to allow the bloc to face the unprecedented challenges linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and soaring energy prices.

“The institutions set up by our predecessors in previous decades have served well European citizens, but are inadequate to the current reality we are now facing,” Draghi said in Strasbourg on Tuesday. 

Draghi calls for tighter EU integration to face war, energy gaps

War shows divide in Croatia over Nato 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has laid bare a deep rift among leaders in Nato member state Croatia, offering a glimpse into how the war has upended the political calculus across Europe and undermined unity within the military alliance.

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said earlier this week that no legislator in Croatia should approve the accession of Finland and Sweden into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization before the West helps his kin in Bosnia-Herzegovina or faces being branded “a traitor”. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, his main political rival, said the comments placed the president in the Kremlin’s fold. 

War opens deep divide in Croatian leadership over future of Nato

US allowed to seize superyacht in Fiji 

Fiji’s High Court has given the green light for US and local authorities to seize a $325-million superyacht whose ownership is in dispute, setting the stage for a legal showdown to determine whether the luxury vessel’s owner is sanctioned Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov as the US claims. 

The Suva High Court granted the order to seize the Amadea and accepted an application to register the US warrant to seize the vessel, according to Fiji’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Russia set to dodge default 

Russia’s closely watched dollar payments on two bonds are getting ever closer to reaching creditors as the country races to unblock the transfers and avoid a default. 

At least one international clearinghouse has received and processed payments for Eurobonds due in 2022 and 2042, according to a person familiar with the transaction who wasn’t authorised to speak publicly on the matter. The complications with the $650-million in coupon and principal payments are the result of wide-ranging financial and economic penalties imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine. 

Slovakia to demand oil embargo exemption 

Slovakia said it will push for an exemption if the EU agrees to an embargo on Russian oil imports as it would place too heavy a burden on the eastern European nation’s economy.

Read more: Hungary floats veto threat as EU works to ban Russian oil

The government in Bratislava noted that processing light crude isn’t possible in Slovakia and said it would ask for a longer transition period for phasing out oil imported via pipeline. Countries such as Hungary that are deeply reliant on Russian energy may get some additional flexibility as part of a compromise to drop their opposition to new sanctions, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Ukraine refugees in Germany top 400,000 

The number of refugees from Ukraine arriving in Germany rose above 400,000, mostly women, children and elderly people, according to figures from the federal police. 

Germany doesn’t have fixed controls on its eastern borders with countries like Poland and the Czech Republic so the number of refugees may be higher, while some of those arriving could be in transit to other countries.

Pope Francis pushing for Putin talks 

Francis is still pressing for a meeting in Moscow with Putin but has yet to receive a reply, the leader of the Catholic Church said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera

“We are insisting, but I fear that Putin cannot have and does not want to have this meeting right now,” he said, adding that he is not currently planning to visit Kyiv. Francis also said he had a 40-minute conversation with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church on Zoom, and that Kirill had spent the first 20 minutes “reading to me from a paper all the justifications for the war”.

Vineyard exposes risks in frontline Moldova 

Wine producer Purcari Wineries, the only Moldovan company listed on a foreign stock exchange, has become a barometer for risk sentiment in the nation bordering Ukraine, its stock tanking following Russia’s invasion.

The pro-Russian breakaway territory of Transnistria is 3.6km away from the firm’s vineyards, and the main border crossing to the key Ukrainian port of Odesa is just down the road. A Russian general said last month that reaching Transnistria was a war aim, though Purcari’s chief operating officer believes the fighting won’t cross the de facto border. 

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