Civilians fleeing besieged Mariupol describe weeks of bombardment

·3-min read
Mother and daughter Dina (R) and Natasha (L) from Mariupol as they arrive at the evacuation centre (AFP via Getty Images)
Mother and daughter Dina (R) and Natasha (L) from Mariupol as they arrive at the evacuation centre (AFP via Getty Images)

Civilians fleeing the besieged city of Mariupol have described weeks of being bombarded by Russian troops as they arrived on Monday into Ukrainian-held territory.

A group of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are holded up inside the sprawling Azvostal steel plant, with a group of more than 100 civilians among the first to be rescued in a planned rescue by the UN and International Red Cross.

Video posted online by Ukrainian forces on Sunday showed elderly women, mothers, and children climbing over rubble near the plant to board buses to safety.

However, Mariupol’s Deputy Mayor, Sergei Orlov, told the BBC that the evacuees were making slow progress and would probably not arrive on Monday as hoped for. Authorities gave no explanation for the delay.

The city has witnessed the most intense conflict of the 10-week war, and previous attempts to open safe corridors out of the strategic port city have failed.

People flee from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia (REUTERS)
People flee from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia (REUTERS)

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky said he hoped more people would be able to leave the city in evacuations on Monday.

“People without cars cannot leave. They’re desperate,” said Olena Gibert, who was among those arriving at a reception center in Zaporizhzhia from Mariupol.

“You need to go get them. People have nothing.”

She said many people still in Mariupol wish to escape the Russian-controlled city but fear saying so openly.

Anastasiia Dembytska, who took advantage of the brief cease-fire to leave with her daughter, nephew and dog, told The Associated Press her family survived by cooking on a makeshift stove and drinking well water.

She said could see the steel plant from her window, when she dared to look out. “We could see the rockets flying” and clouds of smoke over the plant, she said.

At least some of those evacuated from the plant were reportedly taken to a village controlled by Russian-backed separatists, according to the Russian military.

People climbing over rubble to escape steel plant (AP)
People climbing over rubble to escape steel plant (AP)

Ukraine has previously accused Moscow of forcibly relocating people to Russia, while Russian officials have claimed civilians have fled to Russia of their own free will.

Mr Zelensky told Greek state television that remaining civilians in the Mariupol steel factory were afraid to board buses because they believed they would be taken to Russia.

He said he had been assured by the United Nations, which is sponsoring the humanitarian corridor, that they would be allowed to go to areas his government controls.

Ukraine’s military claimed Monday to have destroyed two small Russian patrol boats in the Black Sea, in the latest setback for Vladimir Putin’s forces

British defence officials also said on Monday they believe more than a quarter of all the fighting units Russia has deployed in Ukraine are now “combat ineffective” — unable to fight because of loss of troops or equipment.

After failing to take the capital Kyiv earlier in the war, Putin has shifted his focus to the eastern Donbas region where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014.

Meanwhile, asked Monday whether US President, Joe Biden, would visit Ukraine as other world leaders have done, the Whitr House said he would “love to” but there are no current plans for him to do so.

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said officials would continue to assess the situation, and underscored the Biden administration's objective to reopen the US Embassy and have US diplomats on site.

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