Dozens of people, including women and children, have been evacuated from a steel plant in the pulverised city of Mariupol.
Two groups of civilians left the residential area around the Azovstal steelworks – the last Ukrainian stronghold in the bombed-out ruins of the southern Ukrainian city – on Saturday, Russian news agencies reported citing the defence ministry on Sunday.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The ministry said a total of 46 civilians left the area and were “provided with food and shelter”, RIA and TASS reported. Those brought out included 19 adults and six children. No further details were given.
Many efforts to arrange a ceasefire to allow residents to leave the city have broken down, with Moscow and Kyiv repeatedly blaming each other.
A leader with the Azov Battalion, the Ukrainian unit defending the plant, said 20 civilians were evacuated during a ceasefire, though it was not clear if he was referring to the same group as the Russian news reports.
“Twenty civilians, women and children … have been transferred to a suitable place and we hope that they will be evacuated to Zaporizhzhia, on territory controlled by Ukraine,” Sviatoslav Palamar said in a video posted on the battalion’s Telegram channel.
He reported heavy bombardment of the site overnight and said fighters were still going through the debris searching for civilians to rescue.
“All night, the enemy artillery bombarded the site,” he said. “The Azov regiment is still clearing the rubble to get civilians out. We hope this procedure will continue that we will manage to evacuate all the civilians.”
A Red Cross representative also said 20 civilians were evacuated. Under the auspices of the United Nations and the Red Cross, more than 70 buses are at the plant to evacuate people.
The civilians were taken to the village of Bezimenne, which is under the control of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
After passing the necessary checks, they were taken to a camp for refugees. From there they are to be taken to the city of Zaporizhzhia, a territory under the control of Ukraine, accompanied by UN and Red Cross vehicles, as well as Russian and Donetsk military forces.
The UN confirmed on Sunday that an operation to evacuate people from a steel plant in the bombed-out Ukrainian city of Mariupol is under way.
“UN confirms that a safe passage operation is ongoing in Azovstal steel plant, in coordination with the ICRC and the parties to the conflict,” spokesman Jens Laerke said.
An estimated 1,000 civilians and several hundred Ukrainian soldiers are thought to be sheltering in the maze of underground tunnels underneath the steelworks. Many of them require medical attention. Ukraine has blamed the failure of numerous previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian shelling.
‘It will go further’
Video and images from inside the plant, shared with The Associated Press news agency by two Ukrainian women, who said their husbands were among the fighters refusing to surrender there, showed unidentified men with stained bandages; others had open wounds or amputated limbs.
A skeleton medical staff was treating at least 600 wounded people, said the women, who identified their husbands as members of the Azov Regiment. Some of the wounds were rotting with gangrene, they said.
In the video, the men say they eat just once daily and share as little as 1.5 litres (50 ounces) of water a day among four people, and that supplies inside the besieged facility are depleted.
One shirtless man appears to be in pain as he describes his wounds: two broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a dislocated arm that “was hanging on the flesh”.
“I want to tell everyone who sees this: If you will not stop this here, in Ukraine, it will go further to Europe,” he said.
Kateryna Prokopenko, wife of Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Regiment, right, and Yulia Fedosiuk, wife of Arseny Fedosiuk, another member of the Azov Regiment get emotional as they show photos of their husbands on their phones during an interview
“The lives of soldiers matter too,” Yuliia Fedusiuk said from Rome, Italy.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from the town of Dobropillya, said it was unclear when the civilians would arrive in Zaporizhzhia, about 150km (70 miles) to the north of Mariupol.
“We haven’t seen proof of arrival yet in Zaporizhzhia. There are thoughts whether these people have been evacuated to the Russian side. It’s also not clear where these 46 civilians, according to the Russians, actually came from,” he said.
The latest satellite images from the United States-based Maxar Technologies, taken on Friday, show nearly all the buildings at the steelworks have been destroyed.
Some roofs have been holed or complete caved in, some buildings reduced to rubble.