Civilians trapped in Azovstal steel plant being evacuated, UN confirms

·3-min read

The United Nations has confirmed that an operation to evacuate people from a besieged steel plant in Mariupol has begun.

UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu said on Sunday that the effort to bring people out of the sprawling Azovstal steel plant is being conducted in collaboration with the International Committee for the Red Cross and in coordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials.

He called the situation “very complex” and would not give further details.

About 1,000 troops and as many civilians, including the elderly, women and children, are believed to have been sheltered in the labyrinthine tunnel network beneath the steelworks.

A woman sits with children as evacuees, including civilians who left the area near Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, arrive at a temporary accommodation centre in the Donetsk Region (REUTERS)
A woman sits with children as evacuees, including civilians who left the area near Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, arrive at a temporary accommodation centre in the Donetsk Region (REUTERS)

It comes after around 20 civilians including women and children were evacuated earlier on Sunday in the first ray of hope from the desperate situation at the plant.

Ukraine has not said how many fighters are also in the plant, the only part of Mariupol not occupied by Russian forces, but Russia put the number at about 2,000.

An estimated 100,000 civilians remain in the besieged city.

UN humanitarian spokesperson Saviano Abreu earlier said the organisation was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and Kyiv, but he could not provide details of the ongoing evacuation effort “because of the complexity and fluidity of the operation.”

“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,” Mr Abreu said.


He would not confirm video posted on social media purportedly showing UN-marked vehicles in Mariupol.

Ukraine has blamed the failure of numerous previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian shelling.

In the town of Lyman in the Donetsk region, where at least half the population has fled Russian shelling, around 20 elderly people and children clutching bags along with their dogs and cats boarded a minivan marked with a sign reading “evacuation of children” in Ukrainian. It sped off toward the city of Dnipro as explosions were heard in the distance.

Russian forces have embarked on a major military operation to seize significant parts of southern and eastern Ukraine, the country’s industrial heartland. Ukrainian forces fought village-by-village Saturday to hold back the Russian advance.

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said on Saturday that 19 adults and six children were brought out from the steelworks, but gave no further details.

Video and images from inside the plant showed unidentified men with stained bandages; others had open wounds or amputated limbs.

In the video the men said that they eat just once daily and share as little as 1.5L of water a day among four people, and that supplies inside the besieged facility are depleted.

In his nightly video address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky switched into Russian to urge Russian troops not to fight in Ukraine, saying even their generals expect that thousands more of them will die.

The president accused Moscow of recruiting new soldiers “with little motivation and little combat experience” so that units gutted early in the war can be thrown back into battle.

“Every Russian soldier can still save his own life,” Zelenskyy said. “It’s better for you to survive in Russia than to perish on our land.”

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