ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Ukrainian civilians evacuated from the ruined city of Mariupol carried with them fresh accounts of survival and terror on Monday as Western nations worked to turn their increasingly expansive promises of aid into action, preparing billions of dollars in military and economic assistance, an oil embargo and other once-unthinkable steps.
Despite early-morning shelling, the halting evacuation, overseen by the Red Cross and the United Nations, was seen as the best and possibly last hope for hundreds of civilians who have been trapped for weeks in bunkers beneath the wreckage of the Azovstal steel plant, and an unknown number who are scattered around the ruins of the mostly abandoned city.
Those who had been trapped in Mariupol outside the steel mill described a fragile existence, subsisting on Russian rations cooked outside on wood fires amid daily shelling that left corpses lying in debris.
Yelena Gibert, a psychologist who reached Ukrainian-held territory with her teenage son on Monday, described “hopelessness and despair” in Mariupol, and said residents were “starting to talk of suicide because they’re stuck in this situation.”
Heavy fighting in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions has yielded minimal gains for the forces of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Western officials say. But the Russians continued to fire rockets and shells at Ukrainian military positions, cities, towns and infrastructure along a 300-mile-long front, including bombarding the Azovstal plant, where the last remaining Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol are hunkered down.
On Monday, Ukraine said it had used Turkish-made drones to destroy two Russian patrol vessels off the Black Sea port of Odesa, just before Russian missiles struck the city, causing an unknown number of casualties and damage to a religious building.
The U.S. State Department said that Russia’s war aims now include annexing Donetsk and Luhansk — partially controlled before the Feb. 24 invasion by Russia-backed separatists — as soon as mid-May, and possibly the southern Kherson region as well.
“We believe that the Kremlin may try to hold sham referenda to try to add a veneer of democratic or electoral legitimacy, and this is straight out of the Kremlin’s playbook,” Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told reporters at a State Department briefing in Washington.
As the war drags on and evidence of atrocities mounts, the West’s appetite has grown for retaliation that would have been rejected out of hand a few months ago. The U.S. Senate is preparing to take up President Biden’s $33 billion aid package for Ukraine, including a significant increase in heavy weaponry, and the European Union is expected this week to impose an embargo on Russian oil, a significant step for a bloc whose members have long depended on Russian energy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, days after becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Kyiv since the war began, met in Warsaw with…