Dozens of women and children have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which Russia now claims is under its control—a move that comes amid a United Nations effort to allow safe passage of civilians from the complex, which is the last remaining bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the city.
A view of the destruction in the city of Mariupol.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted Sunday around 100 people were evacuated from the Azovstal complex and sent to the city of Zaporizhzhia, and government and UN officials are now “working on the evacuation of other civilians from the plant.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross told Forbes a civilian evacuation convoy reached Mariupol on Saturday, and a “safe passage operation is ongoing,” though the organization declined to share further details due to safety concerns.
Evacuation efforts from the besieged industrial complex began Saturday and will continue as long as the Russians don’t “start shooting again,” Svyatoslav Palamar from the Ukrainian paramilitary Azov regiment told the New York Times.
The push to evacuate civilians appears to have continued on Sunday, as the Russian defense ministry announced that a total of 46 civilians had been evacuated from the plant in two groups.
It is unclear how many civilians remain in the complex, but Ukrainian officials previously stated that nearly 1,000 civilians and fighters were trapped in the plant as Russian forces have moved in to take control of the rest of the city.
On Saturday, multiple unconfirmed videos were shared on social media showing vehicles with United Nations markings entering Mariupol, but it is unclear if they have aided in the evacuation process.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed his forces had successfully captured Mariupol, although Ukrainian fighters remained in control of the Azovstal Steel Plant. Putin nixed the idea of storming the massive industrial complex and instead ordered his troops to lay siege to it so that “not even a fly can escape.” Ukrainian officials and multiple international entities—including the Vatican—have repeatedly called for a ceasefire around the plant to allow for the evacuation of the people trapped there, but the Russians have allegedly refused to acquiesce. The United Nations is now negotiating with officials in Moscow and Kyiv to lead an evacuation effort from the plant but details about it remain scant.
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesperson Saviano Abreu told the Associated Press: “There is, right now, ongoing, high-level engagements with all the governments, Russia and Ukraine, to make sure that you can save civilians and support the evacuation of civilians from the plant.” Abreu refused to provide details about the evacuations “because of the complexity and fluidity of the operation.”
Russia says 46 civilians left area near Azovstal plant on Saturday (Reuters)