Dozens more civilians have been rescued from the tunnels under a besieged steel mill in Mariupol where Ukrainian fighters have been making their last stand to prevent Russia's complete takeover of the strategically important port city.
Russian and Ukrainian officials said 50 people were evacuated from the Azovstal plant and handed over to representatives of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Russian military said the group included 11 children.
Russian officials and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said evacuation efforts would continue on Saturday. The latest evacuees were in addition to roughly 500 other civilians who got out of the plant and city in recent days.
The fight for the last Ukrainian stronghold in a city reduced to ruins by the Russian onslaught appeared increasingly desperate amid growing speculation that President Vladimir Putin wants to present a triumph to the Russian people in time for Monday's Victory Day, the biggest patriotic holiday on the Russian calendar.
As the holiday commemorating the Soviet Union's World War II victory over Nazi Germany approached, cities across Ukraine prepared for an expected increase in Russian attacks, and officials urged residents to heed air raid warnings.
"These symbolic dates are to the Russian aggressor like red to a bull," said Ukraine's first deputy interior minister, Yevhen Yenin. "While the entire civilised world remembers the victims of terrible wars on these days, the Russian Federation wants parades and is preparing to dance over bones in Mariupol."
By Russia's most recent estimate, roughly 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are holed up in the vast maze of tunnels and bunkers beneath the Azovstal steelworks, and they have repeatedly refused to surrender. Ukrainian officials said before Friday's evacuations that a few hundred civilians were also trapped there, and fears for their safety have increased as the battle has grown fiercer in recent days.
Some of the plant's previous evacuees have described the horrors of being surrounded by death in the mouldy, underground bunker with little food and water, poor medical care and diminishing hope.
Fighters defending the plant said on Friday that Russian troops had fired on an evacuation vehicle on the plant's grounds. They said the car was moving toward civilians when it was hit by shelling, and that one soldier was killed and six were wounded.
Russia took control of the rest of Mariupol after bombarding it for two months. Around 100,000 civilians remain there with scarce supplies of food, water, electricity and heat. Ahead of Victory Day, bulldozers scooped up debris, and people swept streets against a backdrop of hollowed-out buildings. Russian flags were hoisted.
The fall of Mariupol would allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free some Russian troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that the Kremlin says is now its chief objective. .
While they pounded away at the plant, Russian forces struggled to make significant gains elsewhere, 10 weeks into a devastating war that has killed thousands of people, forced millions to flee the country and flattened large swathes of cities.
The Ukrainian military's general staff said Friday that its forces repelled 11 attacks in the Donbas region and made progress in the northeastern Kharkiv region, recapturing five villages and part of a sixth.