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Ukrainian authorities braced for an expected intensification of Russian attacks ahead of the Victory Day holiday on May 9, while officials on both sides said the civilian evacuation of a besieged steel factory in Mariupol had been completed, although the fate of the remaining fighters there is unclear .

Ukrainian officials declared on May 7 that all women, children, and elderly people had been evacuated from the massive Azovstal steel plant that had been under attack for weeks by Russian forces amid the ruins of the port city.

“The President’s order has been carried out: All women, children, and the elderly have been evacuated from Azovstal,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a statement on social media.

“This part of the Mariupol humanitarian mission has been completed,” she added without elaborating.

The evacuation of the Azovstal steel mill has been intensified in the past two days, even as Russia has continued to batter the facility and the strategic city, which is now mainly in ruins.

Russia is seeking to complete its takeover of the region and build a land bridge between Crimea — which it is illegally annexed in 2014 – and territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Mariupol has taken the worst of the fighting in Ukraine since Russian troops were forced to retreat around Kyiv and other cities in the north.

Before the weekend, an estimated 200 civilians had been hiding within the massive steel plant along with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders.

The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have desperately been attempting to organize evacuations from the site.

Russian officials also later issued a statement saying that the civilian evacuation of the steel plant had been completed.

The fate of the fighters remains unclear.

Russia, meanwhile, claimed its Iskander missiles destroyed a Ukrainian cache of weaponry that had been supplied by the United States and Europe and that high-precision missiles had destroyed Ukrainian aircraft at airfields in the Artsyz, Odesa, and Voznesensk regions.

Oleskiy Arestovych, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, claimed on May 7 that Ukraine had made battlefield advances in the east, just two days before Russia holds ceremonies to mark Victory Day, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech on May 9 will be closely watched to see if he will announce a general mobilization or some other major strategic shift, in a bid to turn the tide of the war, now in its 73rd day.

The top human rights representative of the Council of Europe has deplored Moscow’s actions in its invasion, saying that every Ukrainian who has suffered human rights violations at Russian hands deserves justice.

“Each of them deserves justice and must not be forgotten,” Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement following a four-day visit to Kyiv, adding that the extent of human rights violations was “staggering.”

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