ODESSA, Ukraine—The Ukrainian government said it had opened talks on evacuating soldiers trapped in the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol in stages, starting with 38 troops who are severely injured, as the European Union was preparing a proposal to boost funding for Ukraine’s military.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister
said she had met with representatives from the United Nations and the Red Cross who then went to Russia for talks Thursday, with the aim of reaching a deal to evacuate several hundred fighters that Russian forces have surrounded at the plant.
The families of fighters there—which include members of the Azov national guard unit, Ukrainian marines, border guards and police—have waged a public campaign for Kyiv to intensify efforts to save them. Hundreds of civilians have been removed from the Azovstal plant to Ukrainian territory in recent days. Russia has besieged Mariupol for two months and whittled down territory controlled by Ukrainian forces to the Azovstal plant.
“We understand that we need to rescue our guys,” Ms. Vereshchuk said on Ukrainian television late Thursday. In a separate social-media post, she said negotiations were focused on evacuating the 38 severely wounded fighters at the plant.
On Friday, the EU’s top diplomat,
said the bloc planned to add 500 million euros to a fund set up to repay European countries that provide weapons to Ukraine, bringing the total provided by Brussels for weapons deliveries €2 billion. Speaking at a Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting, Mr. Borrell said the money would be spent to help EU countries provide heavy weapons for Ukraine. The decision still needs signoff by member states, and a senior diplomat involved in discussions said Friday that the proposal was still under discussion.
Ukrainian officials have suggested swapping Russian prisoners of war for those Ukrainians trapped at the mill. Ms. Vereshchuk said Turkey was acting as an intermediary in talks.
Russia hasn’t commented on Ukraine’s offers.
Ms. Vereshchuk said Ukraine and Russia are holding roughly the same numbers of prisoners of war, without giving a figure, but that Moscow is also holding around 2,000 Ukrainian civilians—including mayors, local officials and journalists—on Russian territory.
On Friday, a Russian soldier was due to become the first to stand trial for killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian, the first war-crime case to go to court since Russia’s invasion began.
Ukrainian prosecutors say that Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin shot dead a 62-year-old man in a village in northeastern Ukraine.
In a video posted online by the Ukrainian Security Service, a man identified as the suspect appears to admit to having killed the man after receiving an order to target civilians.
Sgt. Shishimarin’s attorney declined to comment. The Associated Press cited him as saying the soldier hadn’t decided how to plead.
Ukrainian prosecutors say they are investigating more than 10,700 potential war crimes involving more than 600 suspects.
Fighting in the east remained heavy, Ukraine’s military said, adding that it had pushed back Russian attacks.
has refocused Russia’s military campaign on the Donbas areas of eastern Ukraine after failing in his initial attempt to seize Kyiv in March. In addition to parts of Donbas, Russia has captured most of the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and a large part of the Kharkiv region.
Moscow has also sustained heavy losses, failing to conquer any of the major cities in Donbas that Russia didn’t hold at the end of March.
The battlefield setbacks haven’t stopped Mr. Putin from persisting in his plans to seize all or most of Ukraine, according to Ukrainian and U.S. officials. The Russian leader has described the war as a “special operation to protect Donbas,” which he no longer recognizes as part of Ukraine. In 2014, two Russian proxy statelets established the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.
Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhniy, chief of the Ukrainian General Staff, said early Friday that he had spoken by telephone with Gen.
chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gen. Zaluzhniy said Russia had targeted a large oil refinery in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine with 12 cruise missiles, two of which had been shot down by antiaircraft missiles. He said that Russia was using missiles as its air force had suffered heavy losses and was reluctant to fly missions.
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