Azovstal sees more evacuations, war rages in Kharkiv

STORY: Ukrainian officials said Saturday all women, children and elderly civilians have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, as Russia pushes forward with its effort for battlefield gains ahead of a key military anniversary.

The Soviet-era steel mill is Ukraine's last holdout in the strategically located city. It's been largely destroyed by weeks of heavy warfare that trapped hundreds of fighters and civilians inside.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late Saturday rescue efforts would now focus on evacuating the injured and medical personnel out of Azovstal, and getting residents of Mariupol and surrounding areas to safety.

It's unclear how many fighters remain inside the plant. Ukrainian officials fear Russian forces want to wipe them out by Monday, when Moscow marks the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany during World War Two, otherwise known as Victory Day.

Speaking at a Financial Times event on Saturday, U.S. CIA Director William Burns said Russian President Vladimir Putin believes "doubling down" on the conflict will improve Moscow's outlook going forward.

"His convictions about Ukraine and, you know, the reality of Russians, Russia's capability to, you know, continue to grind away at Ukrainian resistance, I don't know whether that's been shaken yet. I think he's in a frame of mind in which he doesn't believe he can afford to lose."

Mariupol lies between the Crimean Peninsula seized by Moscow and parts of eastern Ukraine taken by Russia-backed separatists in 2014. It's key to linking the two Russian-held territories and blocking Ukrainian exports.

Fighting has also raged on in the city of Kharkiv, where Ukrainian soldiers fired off at Russian targets on Saturday -- after officials said Russian forces blew up three road bridges there to slow down Ukraine's counter-offensive.

Ukraine and its western allies say that Russian forces have made slow progress on their revised aim of capturing the country's east and south after failing to seize the capital Kyiv, and may be planning to involve Ukraine's neighbor, Moldova.

Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine a "special military operation" to disarm the country and stamp out anti-Russian nationalism stirred up by the West. Ukraine and its western allies maintain it's an unprovoked war.

U.S. President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders are now set to hold a video call with Ukraine's Zelenskiy in a show of solidarity, while Putin gears up for a massive military parade in Moscow celebrating Victory Day.

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