Mariupol evacuation begins

Advertisement

UN confirms that a “safe passage operation is ongoing” at Azovstal which was being coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Russian and Ukrainian forces…reports Asian Lite News

The evacuation of the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol has started, with an initial group of 100 civilians en route to Ukrainian-held territory, President Volodymyr Zelensky said 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 220 kilometers (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 had confirmed that a “safe passage operation is ongoing” at Azovstal which was being coordinated by the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Separately, Russian media confirmed that 40 civilians had left the Azovstal steel plant and were being taken to Russian-held territories in the east.

The TASS agency said 18 men, 14 women and eight children were taken to Bezimenne, a village halfway between Mariupol and the Russian border.

In a posting on Telegram, Andriy Yermak, head of Zelensky’s office said it was “only the first stage.”

“The evacuation of civilians from the city of Mariupol, in particular from the Azovstal metallurgical plant, began today,” he wrote, saying the move involved “more than 100 women, children and the elderly.”

“It was a difficult operation and there is still a lot of work ahead, but nothing will stop us.”

The vast Azovstal iron and steelworks is the last hold-out of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol after a weeks-long onslaught by the Russian military.

Mariupol is an important strategic hub connecting the Russian-held southern and eastern parts of Ukraine.

Several hundred Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are sheltering in the maze of Soviet-era underground tunnels underneath the steelworks, many of whom require medical attention.

Their fate has drawn worldwide condemnation.

Stretching over 11 square kilometers (4.2 square miles), the Azovstal complex is a sprawling warren of rail lines, warehouses, coal furnaces, factories, chimneys and tunnels seen as ideal for guerrilla warfare.

‘Ukraine shells its own civilians’

Ukraine’s shelling killed and injured its own civilians in the southern region of Kherson, Russia said on Sunday, after pounding southern and eastern areas with missile strikes.

Moscow has turned its focus to Ukraine’s south and east after failing to capture the capital Kyiv in a nine-week assault that has flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee abroad.

Its forces have captured the town of Kherson, giving them a foothold just 100 km (60 miles) north of Russian-annexed Crimea, and have mostly occupied Mariupol, the strategic eastern port city on the Azov Sea.

Russia’s defense ministry accused Ukraine’s forces of shelling a school, kindergarten and cemetery in the villages of Kyselivka and Shyroka Balka in the Kherson region, the Russian RIA news agency said on Sunday.

The ministry gave no further details. There was no immediate response from Ukraine to the report, which Reuters could not independently verify.

But Ukraine’s military said in a bulletin on Sunday that Russian forces were fighting to break beyond Kherson’s administrative borders and prepare the way for attacks on the cities of Mykolayiv and Kryvyi Rih.

Russia’s control of Kherson will help sustain its advances to the north and west and improve its control of Crimea, British military intelligence said in a Twitter update.

Russia declared victory in Mariupol on April 21, even as hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians took shelter in the Azovstal steel works.

The United Nations has urged an evacuation deal. On Saturday a Ukrainian fighter inside said some 20 women and children had made it out.

“We are getting civilians out of the rubble with ropes — it’s the elderly, women and children,” said the fighter, Sviatoslav Palamar, referring to wreckage within the plant, which sprawls 4 square kilometers.

Palamar said Russia and Ukraine were respecting a local cease-fire, and he hoped the evacuated civilians would be taken to the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia to the northwest.

There was no comment from Russia or the United Nations on the evacuations. Hundreds of Ukrainians remain inside the steel works, Ukrainian officials say.

A Russian missile launched from Crimea destroyed the runway at the main airport in the city of Odesa to the west, said regional governor Maksym Marchenko, but no one was hurt.

The airport could no longer be used, Ukraine’s military said. President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed to rebuild it, saying in a late-night video speech, “Odesa will never forget Russia’s behavior toward it.”

There was no comment on the strike from Moscow, whose forces have sporadically targeted Ukraine’s third-largest city, where eight people were killed in a recent Russian strike, Ukrainian officials said.

Moscow’s assault in the south aims in part to link the area with Crimea as it pushes for complete control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists already controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces before Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion.

In his speech, Zelensky said Russia was “gathering additional forces for new attacks against our military in the east of the country” and “trying to increase pressure in the Donbas.”

Moscow calls its actions a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war of aggression.

Despite weeks of peace talks, both sides looked to be as far apart as ever on Saturday.

Ukraine accuses Russian troops of carrying out atrocities in areas near Kyiv in early April, a claim denied by Moscow. Negotiators last met face-to-face on March 29, and have since spoken by video link.

ALSO READ: Nancy Pelosi visits Kyiv, meets with Ukraine president