100 civilians evacuated from Azovstal in Mariupol steel plant today, Zelensky said.
- Rescue marks first significant evacuation from the industrial facility, the last pocket of resistance after a brutal weeks-long assault on the port city
- UN says ‘very complex’ operation to bring residents out is being done with the Red Cross and in co-ordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials
An initial group of around 100 civilians have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday.
“Evacuation of civilians from Azovstal began. The 1st group of about 100 people is already heading to the controlled area. Tomorrow we’ll meet them in Zaporizhzhia,” he tweeted, referring to a city 220km (130 miles) to the northwest.
“Now they, together with #UN, are working on the evacuation of other civilians from the plant,” he said.
Earlier on Sunday, the United Nations confirmed that a “safe passage operation is ongoing” at Azovstal and was being coordinated by the Red Cross and Russian and Ukrainian forces.
Like other evacuations, success of the mission in the port city of Mariupol depended on Russia and its forces in a long series of checkpoints before reaching Ukrainian ones.
Dozens of civilians were evacuated in a convoy with vehicles bearing United Nations symbols, signalling a deal had been struck to ease the ordeal of the most destructive siege in the Ukraine conflict.
A group of around 40 were the first to arrive at a temporary accommodation centre after leaving the area around the plant, a Reuters photographer said. The news agency’s photographs showed people arriving in the village of Bezimenne in the Donetsk Region, around 30km east of Mariupol, with Ukrainian number plates in a convoy with Russian forces and vehicles with United Nations symbols.
The village is under the control of Moscow-backed separatists. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had said after meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Thursday that intense discussions were under way to enable the evacuation of Azovstal.
The weeks-long siege of Mariupol, in which Russian forces battled Ukrainian fighters, has turned the city into a wasteland with an unknown death toll and thousands trying to survive without water, sanitation or food.
The city is under Russian control but some fighters and civilians remain holed up in the Azovstal works, a vast Soviet-era plant founded under Josef Stalin and designed with a labyrinth of bunkers and tunnels to withstand a major attack.
Two groups of civilians, 46 people in all, left the residential area around the Azovstal works on Saturday, the Russian defence ministry said earlier on Sunday. It released a video showing vehicles bearing United Nations and Red Cross symbols.
“On April 30, following the implementation of a ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor, two groups of civilians have left the residential buildings adjacent to the site of the Azovstal steel plant,” the ministry said on Telegram.
“Twenty-five residents left in the afternoon. In the early evening, a second group of 21 people left and were taken to Bezimenne,” a village situated halfway between Mariupol and the Russian border.