The Latest on the Russia-Ukraine War: Live Updates

The most ambitious attempt yet to evacuate desperate civilians from the devastated Ukrainian port of Mariupol, which has been under siege for weeks by Russian forces, was marred by disruptions on Friday that have allowed thousands of residents to flee but many more are still stranded, after the Red Cross deemed the Exodus too dangerous.

The suspended Red Cross evacuation in Mariupol, a city that has become a symbol of the horrors of war in Ukraine, was one of several developments that painted a mixed picture on Friday as one of the biggest armed conflicts in Europe since Decades shattered, rumbled into its sixth week.

New signs were emerging that Russian forces, hampered by their own botched planning and fierce Ukrainian resistance, were withdrawing from areas outside the capital, Kyiv, and moving north. The Ukrainians claimed they had regained control of more than two dozen suburbs and hamlets.

Ukrainian attack helicopters have attacked an oil terminal in Russia, Russian officials said – which, if confirmed, would be the first known Ukrainian airstrike on Russian territory since the February 24 invasion.

Such an attack would be both embarrassing and potentially provocative for Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in his difficult campaign to conquer Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have provided conflicting claims as to whether Ukraine was responsible.

Credit…Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

And at Chernobyl, the toxic, decommissioned nuclear site in north-west Ukraine that Russia seized in the early days of the war, Russian vehicles appeared to kick up radiation dust as they departed, the United Nations top nuclear official said. Whether Russian soldiers or others there suffered radiation poisoning remained unclear.

There was early optimism that an organized large-scale evacuation of Mariupol – a thriving port of 450,000 people obliterated by Russian shelling and bombing – could be carried out on Friday under the auspices of the Red Cross, after the Russian Defense Ministry granted a temporary permit had approved armistice.

Many thousands of civilians have been trapped in the city under constant Russian bombardment for weeks, with limited access to food, water and electricity. Earlier attempts at humanitarian pauses in the fighting have repeatedly failed.

According to some estimates, three quarters of Mariupol’s population have fled, and about 100,000 people remain.

A Red Cross team that was on its way to Mariupol on Friday to escort buses and cars carrying civilians had to turn back because conditions for safe passage were not guaranteed, the organization said in a statement. It was said that the team, consisting of three vehicles and nine employees, would try again on Saturday.

“It is crucial for the success of the operation that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees,” the Red Cross statement said.

Credit…Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The Red Cross had expected about 54 buses, along with an unknown number of private vehicles, to take part in an evacuation convoy carrying thousands of people.

While the larger convoy failed on Friday, local officials said smaller groups of people were able to leave the city in cars. On Friday afternoon, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed in a statement on her Telegram page that a corridor of private transport has been opened from Mariupol to the city of Zaporizhia.

Around noon on Friday, Pyotr Andryushenko, the Mariupol mayor’s adviser, said some buses had departed for nearby Berdyansk.

Until the end of the day, it remained unclear exactly how many people were able to leave Mariupol. But Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on his Telegram account that about 3,000 people managed to escape on Friday and that more than 3,000 were evacuated from other cities.

The Russians signaled a week ago that they may withdraw troops from Kyiv and other areas in northern Ukraine and recalibrate their aims in the war, as it became increasingly clear that their military was weak and the Kremlin’s expectations of a quick victory wrong were.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for the New York Times

Western officials and analysts were initially skeptical, suspecting the Russians would simply reposition and resupply for new attacks. While that may still be true, after more than a week of Ukrainian counterattacks, the Russian withdrawal from the Kyiv area seemed real, these officials and analysts said, based on Ukrainian military reports of recaptured cities and other signs, including social media Videos and satellite images pointing to a Russian withdrawal.

“The counterattacks likely prompted the Russian decision to abandon Kyiv,” said Frederick W. Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “The counterattacks have shown that the Russians cannot hold the occupied positions anyway.”

The early morning helicopter attack on Russian territory took place in Belgorod, part of a staging area for the Russian invasion about 20 miles from the eastern Ukrainian border. The Ukrainian military had previously only been able to hit Russian territory with ground-launched missiles, and Russia had boasted that Ukraine’s air force had been “virtually destroyed” in Russian attacks.

The video, posted on VKontakte, a Russian social media site, and confirmed by The New York Times, showed two helicopters firing at the oil depot on the eastern outskirts of the city. Although it was not possible to determine the aircraft’s nationality, footage confirmed that an airstrike caused a fire at the site. Another video of the aftermath showed the depot burning well into the daylight hours.

Credit…Russian Emergencies Ministry, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ukrainian officials initially dodged whether Ukrainian forces had carried out the attack, but a senior security adviser, Oleksiy Danilov, issued a kind of denial, saying, “That doesn’t reflect reality.”

Whether or how Russia intended to respond remained unclear late Friday, but the attack did not appear to bode well for diplomacy to stop the war. Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, told reporters that such attacks “reflect the real intentions of the Ukrainian side and real intentions in relation to peace talks.”

Concerns about possible radiation exposure from Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where a 1986 meltdown caused the worst radiation accident in history, surfaced again on Friday in comments from Rafael Mariano Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN Nuclear Monitor . The Russians took control of the Chernobyl area last month and withdrew this week.

While Mr Grossi said at a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna that radiation levels at the facility had not changed, he said heavy military vehicles kicked up contaminated ground when Russian forces first entered the area, “and apparently this could have been the case on the way out again.”

Mr Grossi said he was aware of reports that some Russian military personnel had been poisoned by radiation while occupying the Chernobyl facility, but that the issue had not been raised in talks he had with nuclear officials in Russia.

“We have heard of the possibility that some employees are contaminated, but we have no confirmation,” he said.

Credit…Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Outside Ukraine, nations that have tried to punish Russia by banning Russian oil purchases took further steps on Friday to protect themselves from the economic shock of higher oil prices brought on by reduced supply.

The International Energy Agency, a 31-strong group of oil-consuming nations, said they had agreed to a new release of emergency oil reserves in what is shaping up as a historic, far-reaching effort to calm global markets.

The move came a day after the Biden administration announced a release of 180 million barrels over six months from the strategic reserve held by the United States.

Megan Specia reported from Kraków, Poland, Anton Troianovski from Istanbul, Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London and Julian E. Barnes from Washington. Reporting was provided by Carlotta Gall from Kyiv, Ukraine, Ivan Nechepurenko from Istanbul and Stanley Reed from London. The Latest on the Russia-Ukraine War: Live Updates

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