Civilians flee Azovstal bunkers in UN-led evacuation

  • Groups of civilians leave the Azovstal steelworks
  • UN confirms evacuation underway
  • The siege of Mariupol has left the city a wasteland
  • Pope says Mariupol was ‘barbarically bombed’

BEZIMENNE, Ukraine, May 1 (Reuters) – Civilians were evacuated from bunkers at Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks on Sunday after the United Nations and the International Red Cross led an agreement to ease the ordeal of the war’s most destructive siege. between Russia and Ukraine. .

The siege of Mariupol, in which Russian forces have pounded the port city for nearly two months, has turned into a wasteland with an unknown number of dead and thousands trying to survive without water, sanitation or food.

The city is under Russian control, but some fighters and civilians have taken refuge underground in the Azovstal facility, a large Soviet-era plant founded by Josef Stalin and designed with a maze of bunkers and tunnels to resist attack.

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After a Reuters photographer saw dozens of civilians arriving at a temporary accommodation center on Sunday, the United Nations confirmed what it called a safe passage operation to evacuate people from the steelworks from Saturday.

“The UN confirms that a safe passage operation is underway at the Azovstal steel plant, in coordination with the ICRC and the parties to the conflict,” UN spokesman Saviano Abreu said.

“At this time, and since the operations are ongoing, we will not share any further details, as it could endanger the safety of civilians and the convoy,” he said.

The Reuters photographer saw civilians arrive at the village of Bezimenne in the Russian-backed Donetsk region, some 30 km (20 miles) east of Mariupol, where they were receiving refreshments and care after weeks of suffering.

Young children were among those evacuated from the plant, where people huddled underground, huddling under blankets in the plant’s bunkers and tunnels as bombing tore through the city.

Outside the blue tents, two boys sat staring thoughtfully as they waited, the boy playing with a barge and heavily armed men watching. A woman raised her hands to her face in excitement. A young woman came over to pet a cat.

The civilians seen by Reuters had been evacuated in a convoy with Russian forces and vehicles bearing United Nations symbols.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said after meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in kyiv on Thursday that intense discussions were underway to allow Azovstal to be evacuated.

A United Nations spokesman said he could not immediately comment. An aide to the mayor of Mariupol declared a period of silence, pending official statements about the evacuations.

Pope Francis on Sunday described the war in Ukraine as a “grim regression of humanity” that makes him “suffer and cry”, and called for humanitarian corridors to evacuate people trapped in the Mariupol steelworks. read more

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the “special military operation” is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia and Moscow had to defend Russian-speakers from persecution.

He says that Ukraine and Russia are essentially one country. Ukraine says it is fighting an imperialist land grab by Russia and that Putin’s claims of genocide are nonsense.

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Information from Reuters; edited by Guy Faulconbridge and Angus MacSwan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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