Dozens of people, including women and children, were evacuated from a steel plant in the devastated city of Mariupol.
Russian news agencies, citing the Defense Ministry, reported on Sunday that two groups of civilians left the residential area around the steel plants of Azovstal – the last Ukrainian stronghold in the ruins of the southern Ukrainian city – on Saturday.
The ministry said a total of 46 civilians had left the area and had been “provided with food and shelter,” RIA and TASS reported. Among those removed were 19 adults and six children. No other details were provided.
Several efforts to arrange a ceasefire to allow residents to leave the city collapsed, with each other repeatedly being blamed by Moscow and Kiev.
A commander in the Azov battalion, the Ukrainian unit defending the plant, said 20 civilians had been evacuated during the ceasefire, though it was not clear if he was referring to the same group that Russian news reports were referring to.
“Twenty civilians, a woman and a child … have been taken to a suitable place and we hope that they will be evacuated to Zaporizhzhya, which is on the territory under the control of Ukraine,” Svyatoslav Balamar said in a video clip broadcast on the battalion’s Telegram channel.
He reported intense shelling of the site during the night and said fighters were still passing through the rubble, searching for civilians to rescue.
He said, “All night long, enemy artillery bombarded the outpost.” The Azov Regiment is still clearing the rubble to get the civilians out. We hope this procedure continues until we can evacuate all civilians.”
The representative of the Red Cross also said that 20 civilians had been evacuated. Under the auspices of the United Nations and the Red Cross, more than 70 buses are at the station to evacuate people.
The civilians were transferred to the village of Bizimeni, which is under the control of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
After passing the necessary examinations, they were taken to a refugee camp. From there they will be taken to the city of Zaporizhzhya, an area under the control of Ukraine, escorted by UN and Red Cross vehicles, as well as Russian and Donetsk military forces.
There was no confirmation from the United Nations of the evacuations. The world organization is trying to mediate the evacuation of civilians from the plant, the only part of Mariupol still in the hands of Ukrainian forces.
An estimated 1,000 civilians and several hundred Ukrainian soldiers are believed to be sheltering in the maze of underground tunnels beneath steel mills. Many of them require medical attention.
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Pictures and videos from inside the factory, shared by two Ukrainian women with The Associated Press, who said their husbands were among the fighters refusing to surrender there, showed unidentified men with smeared bandages; Others had open wounds or had limbs amputated.
The women, who recognized their husbands as members of the Azov Regiment, said that a large medical staff treated at least 600 wounded. They said some wounds were rotting from gangrene.
In the video, the men said they only eat once a day and share at least 1.5 liters (50 ounces) of water a day between four people, and that supplies inside the besieged facility have run out.
One of the bare-shirted men appears to be in pain as he describes his wounds: two broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a dislocated arm that “was hanging over the body.”
“I want to say to everyone who sees this: if you don’t stop it here, in Ukraine, it will go further to Europe,” he said.
Soldiers are important too
The women told the Associated Press that the video was taken last week in the maze of driveways and bunkers under the factory. They urged the evacuation of Ukrainian fighters alongside civilians, warning that they could be tortured and executed if captured.
“The lives of the soldiers are also important,” said Yulia Fedosciuk of Rome, Italy.
Saviano Abreu, a spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian office, said the world body was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and Kiev, but could not provide details of ongoing evacuation efforts “due to the complexity and fluidity of the operation”.
“There are, at the moment, ongoing high-level engagements with all governments, Russia and Ukraine, to make sure that you can rescue civilians and support the evacuation of civilians from the plant,” Abreu said.
Ukraine has blamed the failure of several previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian bombing.
It was not clear when the civilians would arrive in Zaporozhye, about 150 kilometers (70 miles) north of Mariupol, Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, from the town of Dopropylya, said.
“We have not yet seen evidence of arrival in Zaporizhzhia. There are thoughts about whether these people were evacuated to the Russian side. It is also not clear where these 46 civilians came from, according to the Russians, “.
The latest satellite imagery from US-based company Maxar Technologies, taken on Friday, shows the destruction of nearly all buildings in steel plants.
Some roofs were confined or completely collapsed, and some buildings were reduced to rubble.
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