Pelosi pledges U.S. support in Ukraine visit as evacuations begin in war-torn Mariupol

About 100 residents in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol on Sunday were freed and promised safe passage after being trapped for months in the basement of a steel plant with little access to clean air, food or water. This comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a U.S. delegation to meet with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. Nick Schifrin reports from Lviv.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    We begin tonight in Ukraine. They have been trapped for months with no access to clean air or very much food or water residents of Mariupol hiding from the Russian bombardment in the basement of a massive steel plant. Today for the first time about 100 of them are free and promised safe passage. But the war around them rages on a day when Ukrainians traditionally remember the dead. Nick Schifrin has our report.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It is a difficult day in the best of times the Sunday after orthodox Easter a day Ukrainians commemorate the dead. Today is the worst of times. And this is the worst of places. Irpin synonymous with Russian war crimes where not a single home on an entire city block has a roof. But it was here outside Kyiv the Russians were stopped.

    Now, next to Irpin's last generation of dead so many new graves the dead aren't even fully buried. And the grief is multigenerational the parents who lost their son, the 10-year-old who wears the uniform of a father he'll never see again. His mother Alla helps them reconcile the irreconcilable.

  • Alla Krotkikh, Irpin Resident (through translator):

    Most of all, I'm thankful to those who bravely defended our city so that we would live.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And the wife Tetyana, whose husband volunteered to fight.

  • Tetyana Blyznyuk, Irpin Resident (through translator):

    Today I bought flowers, which he always bought me and now I bring them to him because these people have nothing better to do and they send them here to kill our people, destroy our cities.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    500 miles southeast, another destroyed city, Mariupol. For weeks, soldiers and civilians have been trapped by Russian shelling underneath the massive Azovstal steel plant with little food or water.

    Today for the first time, Russia allowed about 100 to leave. In Russian TV broadcast this video of the Ukrainians they besieged evacuated by the busload. 37-year-old Natalia Osmanova relieved to be alive, worked at the factory and spent two months underground with no access to fresh air.

  • Natalia Usmanova, Azovstal Plant Employee (through translator):

    The shelling was so strong, it kept hitting miris at the exit of the bomb shelter on the top few steps. One could take a breath but I was afraid to walk out and breathe some fresh air. I was afraid to even stick my nose out.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Tonight they will stay in tents in Russian occupied territory. Tomorrow they've been promised safe passage to Ukrainian health city. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said tonight.

  • Volodymy Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President (through translator):

    Today we finally managed to start the evacuation of assaults stolen after weeks of negotiations, after many attempts, meetings, people calls country's proposals. Finally.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Earlier in Kyiv, Zelenskyy welcome speaker to the House, Nancy Pelosi and a delegation of Democrats as Speaker Pelosi second in line to the presidency, making her the most senior American to visit since the invasion.

    Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House: A frontier of freedom and that your fight is a fight for everyone. And so our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And Nick joins us now from Lviv. And Nick, we heard the House speaker in your report, use the phrase until the war is done. Do the U.S. and Ukraine have different definitions of what winning this war looks like?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It's a key question, Geoff. And there is no one answer. At the very least, everybody wants Ukraine to evict Russia from the territory that they see since them February 25 invasion so that's in southern and southeastern Ukraine, but Russia has controlled territory in the eastern Donbas since 2014. The question of victory does that include evicting Russia from that territory.

    Zelenskyy will only say that officially he will not cede any Ukrainian territory. But the British government this week said that their policy was to help Ukraine enough to be able to evict Russia from that territory in the Donbas.

    There's actually a policy debate within the U.S. administration about how far to go. All they will say for now is that their goal is to help Ukraine in some kind of negotiated settlement. And that means helping Ukraine with lots of weapons and a longer time as well, because now they're beginning to think of reducing Russia's ability to wage war, even in the future.

    And that means from Moscow's perspective, this is going to increasingly be a U.S.-Russia proxy fight. And Geoff, the people I talked to believe that that means escalation is possible because from Moscow's perspective, they would rather escalate than lose a proxy war.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Wow. So given all of that, what are U.S. officials telling you about the Russians progress in Ukraine's east?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, very slow, but steady. That's what Ukrainian and Russian, sorry, that is what Ukrainian and U.S. officials are admitting. And if you take a look at the map, Russian forces are coming up from Mariupol. They're coming from the Donbas over to the west, and they're also coming from the north south, their goal is to push Ukrainian forces along that line in the Donbas and basically isolate them from the rest of the country.

    And that means that the U.S. is really trying to get weapons in as quickly as possible. And what the Ukrainians are doing are kind of rope a dope as one official put it to me, they're ceding territory, they're letting Russia come in a little bit. And to use a lot of weapons, a lot of manpower. And then Ukrainians the next day, or two days later, counter attack.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So Nick, how is all of that affecting the ability to provide Ukraine with the arms that it's requesting?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, so the US is rushing weapons like artillery, like surveillance, like radar systems that are crucial for this territory in the east, which has lots of wide open fields. And it's really a race against time for both sides. How quickly that U.S. weapons can arrive in eastern Ukraine.

    Russia is trying to rush in order to make progress before a lot of those weapons arrived in eastern Ukraine, even before they really reconstituted some of those forces that were decimated outside of Kyiv.

    And so Ukraine says that within a month or so if they got these weapons, they could go on the counter offensive. But Geoff, Russia has a lot of men and a lot of weapons and they could wage war in the east for a long time.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Nick Schifrin in Lviv for us tonight, Nick, thank you so much.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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