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Two months into their invasion, Russia’s pivot to a renewed assault on eastern Ukraine is in full swing, with an epic, long-distance ground battle looming ahead, according to U.S. military officials. About 100 evacuees from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol are expected at a reception center in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia for those who faced a fraught journey. The United Nations-backed “safe passage” was organized after weeks of cease-fire negotiations. Despite the deal, the chief of the Donetsk regional patrol police said Russia is still shelling the plant, even though civilians remain inside.

The situation along the Belarussian border

In March, Moscow said it would “drastically reduce” military activity near the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations.” This comes after Russian operations in this area of Ukraine remain stalled and Ukraine officials have claimed to have recaptured Makariv and Irpin, two areas west of the capital city. No Russian troops were near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant site early Friday, Ukraine’s State Agency on Exclusion Zone Management said, following reports a day earlier that the site has been handed back to Ukrainian personnel.

Ukrainians rush to cross to neighboring countries

Fighting throughout the country has driven nearly 3 million people from Ukraine into neighboring countries, the U.N. refugee agency said. According to border police authorities, the majority of Ukrainians are fleeing to Poland.

Men ages 18 to 60 are barred from leaving the country after President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call to take up arms and defend the country against the Russian invaders.

After weeks of attempted evacuations, more than 125,000 Ukrainian civilians have been able to use humanitarian corridors to leave bombarded cities, according to a video address by Zelensky.

Russia had earlier proposed routes leading to Russia or Belarus, which were rejected by Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have accused Russian troops of repeatedly bombarding convoys of food and medicine trying to reach the besieged city of Mariupol.

Dylan Moriarty, Artur Galocha, Joe Fox, Harry Stevens, Hannah Dormido, Laris Karklis, Lauren Tierney, Tim Meko, Simon Ducroquet, Júlia Ledur, Adrián Blanco and Nick Kirkpatrick contributed to this report.

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