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While a hundred people escaped a Ukrainian steel plant, more are still trapped

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Ukraine, around a hundred civilians have been evacuated from the bunkers beneath a steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol. They had been sheltered there for weeks. They are expected to reach the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia today. But reports say as soon as evacuations ended, Russian shelling resumed. Over the weekend, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders in Kyiv. Colorado Congressman Jason Crow traveled with the speaker.

JASON CROW: We talked about weapons issues, the current state of the battle in the south and the east, what weapons and equipment that they need to win.

MARTIN: NPR's Tim Mak spoke with us earlier about the situation in Mariupol.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy announced that those 100 civilians were able to evacuate after the United Nations helped mediate an arrangement. So for days, this idea of a humanitarian corridor where civilians could safely leave - that was discussed between Ukraine and Russia, but those talks repeatedly failed. Now, the fighting has been centered around that massive steel plant where some Ukrainian fighters still remain, along with several hundred civilians. According to the Ukrainian government, approximately 20 children remain in that steel mill. And they say that this morning, after an evacuation was completed, the Russian military began shelling their positions again.

Now, the humanitarian situation in the city continues to be abysmal. Most of Mariupol has been bombed to rubble. Fighting has gone on there now for months, and people still live without running water or electricity.

MARTIN: I mean, the same can be said for several different cities, in particular in the east. You just came back, I understand, from a city in the Donbas region near the front lines. What did you find?

MAK: Well, that city was called Kramatorsk, and it's nearly emptied out. Seventy-five percent of the prewar population has left, the mayor's office told us, and it's immediately obvious why. All through the day, you hear the sounds of explosions and artillery. In the city, you see bombed-out buildings. And at night, you see these flashes of bombardment on the horizon, the movement of vehicles in the distance. Many of those who have stayed don't really have the means to leave.

We met Elena Dolgeg (ph) waiting in line for humanitarian aid that was organized by local authorities. And it was a hectic scene as locals jockeyed for position outside what was once a school. They received some canned goods, a little milk, a little pasta. She needs it because most of the grocery stores in town are closed or have nothing left to sell. And she's been out of work since February 25, the day after the invasion.

ELENA DOLGEG: (Non-English language spoken).

MAK: She told us what she wanted most was peace, that she was concerned about her son, who's in the Kharkiv region, another area that's close to the front lines. She hasn't seen her son in six months, she said, and she wants her grandchildren to be able to visit.

MARTIN: I can't imagine that she's paying attention to a visit to Ukraine by Nancy Pelosi. Nevertheless, it's significant - right? - that the speaker of the House visited Kyiv.

MAK: That's right. Pelosi led this congressional delegation that met with Zelenskyy over the weekend, and that's the second senior U.S. delegation to do so, after the secretaries of state and defense visited about a week ago. Now, President Biden has requested $33 billion in funding from Congress to help aid Ukraine through the end of September. And Pelosi said they were already writing legislation to reflect those initiatives. Overnight, the White House announced that First Lady Jill Biden will be traveling to Romania and Slovakia to spend Mother's Day with Ukrainian refugees who have fled the country due to violence.

MARTIN: NPR's Tim Mak. Thanks so much, Tim. We appreciate your reporting as always.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.