Mariupol road signs changed to Russian ahead of Victory Day parade.

Pro-Moscow separatists have been photographed removing traffic signs in Ukrainian and Roman characters and replacing them with Russian signs outside the besieged city of Mariupol.

A statement from the Donetsk People’s Republic said on Thursday that “updated road signs” had been installed outside the southeastern port city that became the focus of the most horrific Russian bombing.

“Work will continue to change road signs across the liberated territories,” the statement added.

The separatist group has released several images of city officials wearing orange hibis vests exchanging signs.

It comes as Ukrainian forces prepare a further Russian attack on the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol on Saturday to capture the city in time for Victory Day celebrations.

The Russian holiday on Monday commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945 and the end of World War II. This day is usually marked by a show of military might, fireworks and marching troops.

“These symbolic dates burn as red as a bull for the Russian aggressor,” said Ukrainian Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Jenin. “While the civilized world remembers the victims of today’s terrible wars, the Russian Federation wants a parade and prepares to dance on the bones in Mariupol.”

The steel mill is still the last part of the city in the hands of Ukrainian fighters. Dozens of civilians have been imprisoned for weeks in factories with little food, water or medicine.

City workers changing Ukrainian road signs to Russian outside the city of Mariupol

(Ministry of the People’s Republic of Donetsk)

In a late-night video speech on Friday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine was making a diplomatic effort to rescue defenders trapped inside its steelworks. It was unclear how many Ukrainian fighters were left there.

He said “an influential intermediary is involved, an influential country”, but did not provide details.

The UN-mediated evacuation began last weekend for some of the hundreds of civilians who were evacuated into a network of tunnels and bunkers beneath the factory. However, they were interrupted during the week with new battles.

Fifty women, children and the elderly were evacuated on Friday afternoon, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said will continue on Saturday.

She said the Russian side continued to violate the ceasefire, which made the withdrawal very slow.

Russia confirmed the number of refugees and said that “humanitarian operations in Azovstal will continue on 7 May”.

This article was modified on May 11, 2022. It originally referred to signs in ‘English’ when it was supposed to state the Roman script.

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Additional Reporting by Agencies.

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