Ukraine managed today with the help of the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate between 80 and 100 refugee civilians in the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, after multiple failures and in what kyiv has described as the operation more difficult since the war began more than two months ago.
“The evacuation of Azovstal has begun. The first group of about a hundred people is already on its way to the area controlled” by Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on his Twitter account.
The Russian Ministry of Defense estimated at 80 civilians evacuated from the metallurgical plant, the last stronghold of Ukraine’s resistance in Mariupol and in which about a thousand Ukrainian civilians and soldiers remain, including about 600 wounded, according to kyiv.RELATED
Russia, which has numbered more than 2,000 soldiers equipped in the factory, maintained that the evacuation has been possible “thanks to the initiative” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that civilians have been “rescued” and “liberated” from the “Ukrainian nationalists”, referring to the Azov battalion.
In fact, Zelensky had been urging the international community for weeks to help him evacuate the refugee citizens in the enormous territory of the steel mill together with soldiers and fighters from the Azov battalion, and the mediation of the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, so that it could take place.
The Portuguese met at the beginning of the week with Putin, from whom he extracted an “in principle” to involve the United Nations and the ICRC in the operation, after which he traveled to kyiv to discuss the details with Zelensky, making sure that the agency did “everything possible” to achieve the evacuation of civilians from the steel mill.
The spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Saviano Abreu, confirmed to Efe today that the operation began on Friday, one day after Guterres’ visit to kyiv.
This Sunday the spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense, Igor Konashénkov, stated that on Saturday 46 citizens were evacuated not from the steel mill, but from the residential buildings adjacent to the plant, whose facilities cover an area of 11 square kilometers and are provided with various naves and tunnels.
These characteristics have allowed civilians and soldiers to resist with hardly any water, food and ammunition the relentless bombardment by Russian forces after Putin ordered not to attack the plant, but to block it so that “not a single fly gets out”.
The portfolio led by Sergei Shoigu explained today that units of the Russian Armed Forces and the militia of the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic opened a humanitarian corridor for the safe evacuation of civilians and provided a ceasefire.
Moscow also indicated that all civilians were evacuated to Bezimenne, some 33 kilometers east of Mariupol, in the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic, where they received accommodation, food and necessary medical assistance.
He also assured that those who wanted to go to the areas controlled by the kyiv “regime” were handed over to representatives of the UN and the ICRC.
“Tomorrow we will meet with them in Zaporizhia,” a region in the southeast of the country that is still partly controlled by Ukraine, Zelensky said.
The most difficult operation
“We have carried out the most difficult operation since the beginning of the war,” Ukraine’s chief negotiator David Arakhamia said of the joint work carried out by the Office of the President, the UN and the ICRC, as well as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories, Iryna Vershchuk.
“Just two weeks ago this seemed impossible and a week ago highly unlikely,” he stressed in his Telegram account.
“But we did not lose faith and continued to do our work, because our people were waiting and saw with their own eyes what true hell is,” he added.
Both Zelensky and Arkhamia said today’s evacuation should only be the start of an operation to remove all civilians from the plant.
The president’s team, together with the UN “is now working on the evacuation of other civilians from the factory,” the president stressed.
Soldiers and civilians remain
Meanwhile, in the destroyed city, which Putin considered “liberated” on the 21st after six weeks of Russian siege, some 100,000 citizens still remain without water, food or electricity, in addition to the soldiers surrounded by the steel mill, whom Russia he has unsuccessfully given innumerable ultimatums for them to surrender.
The Mariúpol City Council, which has estimated the deaths in the Russian siege at around 20,000, reported today that the evacuation of the civilian population from the “Port City” shopping center in Mariúpol is postponed until 05:00 GMT on Monday “for security reasons “.
Soldiers and fighters from the Azov regiment – attached to Ukraine’s National Guard – have meanwhile also repeatedly urged world leaders to help them get out of the steel mill and have even written a letter to Pope Francis.
The last cry for help came last Thursday from the commander of the 36th Ukrainian Marine Brigade, Serhiy Volynsky, who asked that they be evacuated following the “extraction” procedure that was used in Dunquerke (France) in 1940, in World War II, which allowed thousands of soldiers to be saved.
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