About 100 civilians were evacuated from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant in a UN operation Sunday — in what Ukrainian officials warned was “one of the last real chances” to flee Russian aggression in the area.
UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu confirmed that the evacuation from the Azovstal plant was under way with the International Committee for the Red Cross and in coordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky added in a tweet that the exodus of “about 100 people” would eventually head to Zaporizhzhia in the southeastern part of the country.
“Grateful to our team! Now they, together with #UN, are working on the evacuation of other civilians from the plant,” Zelensky wrote.
Up to 1,000 civilians and 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are believed to still be holed up in the steel plant, which has remained the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians. Those taking refuge at the site include women and children hiding in bunkers beneath the sprawling facility.
Another roughly 100,000 civilians are estimated to be living elsewhere in Mariupol, struggling to survive amid severe water and food shortages.
A group of around 40 civilians fleeing the steel plant arrived first Sunday at a temporary accommodation center in the Russian-held village of Bezimenne, around 18 miles east of Mariupol, a Reuters photographer said. Later, another group of around 14 people arrived at the accommodation center, where blue tents had been set up, the photographer said — with Zelensky adding that dozens more were following.
Though Abreu declined to provide further details about the evacuation, he said it was “very complex.”
Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, called evacuation efforts on Sunday “one of the last real chances to leave the city,” The Washington Post reported.
Pope Francis, in his weekly address in St. Peter’s Square, mentioned Mariupol as he decried the war as a “macabre regression of humanity,” saying it has made him “suffer and cry.
“My thoughts go immediately to the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city of Mary, barbarously bombarded and destroyed,” he said of Mariupol, which is named after Mary.
“I suffer and cry thinking of the suffering of the Ukrainian population, in particular the weakest, the elderly, the children,” the pontiff told a crowd of thousands.
Mariupol, which is on the Sea of Azov, has been a key target for the Russians because of its strategic location near the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Russia’s siege on Ukraine in the past two months turned the port city into a bombed wasteland, with an unknown death toll and thousands trying to survive without water, sanitation or food.
The developments came as:
-Fighting has ramped up around Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, as Ukrainian forces have made small gains pushing out Russian troops, the New York Timesreported. The Ukrainian armed forces said they were able to retake four villages: Verkhnya Rohanka, Ruska Lozova, Slobidske and Prilesne.
-The Russians began to transition in the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson from Ukrainian currency to the Russian ruble on Sunday, the British military said. The British Defense Ministry said the move is “indicative of Russian intent to exert strong political and economic influence in Kherson over the long term.” The move comes amid reports that residents were unable to access cellular and internet service Sunday, in what Ukrainian officials claimed was an attempt to prevent truthful information about the war from getting to the city.
-Samantha Power, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, warned Sunday that there will be widespread international impacts from the war in Ukraine on food supply and prices. “It is just another catastrophic effect of Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” Power said on ABC’s “This Week.
With Post wires