Twenty civilians left the Azovstal factory in Mariupol, a Russian-besieged port in southeastern Ukraine, on Saturday to be evacuated to Zaporijjia, the Azov regiment defending the site said.
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The regiment’s fighters cleared the rubble after heavy shelling of the site the day before and continued into the night to extract other civilians.
“Twenty civilians, women and children (…) were taken to an agreed place and we hope that they will be evacuated to Zaporizhia in the territory controlled by Ukraine,” explained Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment in a videos on Telegram.
A few hours earlier, the official Russian agency Tass announced that a group of 25 civilians, including six children, escaped from Azovstal, a huge steel plant blocking hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.
No attempt to evacuate Azovstal has been successful so far.
“Enemy artillery shelled the area all night. The truce, which was supposed to begin at 6:00 a.m., did not start until 11:00 a.m. Both parties respect it. The evacuation convoy, which we expected at 6:00 a.m., only arrived at 6:25 p.m.,” says Sviatoslav Palamar.
“The Azov regiment continues to clean up the rubble to get civilians out. We hope that this process will continue and that we will manage to evacuate all civilians,” he added.
According to him, the evacuation of wounded people in need of medical assistance to the territory controlled by Ukraine is not on the agenda.
Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, including dozens of children, are stranded at the Azovstal site, according to Kyiv, with the last Ukrainian fighters in the city almost completely destroyed and controlled by Russian forces after weeks of a siege.
The Ukrainian Presidency had announced the previous day that the evacuation of civilians holed up in the Azovstal factory was “planned” for Friday.
An AFP team heard heavy shelling in Azovstal on Friday morning and into the afternoon during a press trip to Mariupol organized by the Russian army.
By early afternoon, the blasts were only seconds apart, with some appearing to be particularly powerful.
Almost all buildings in Azovstal, the last Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol, have been destroyed, according to new satellite images from Maxar Technologies taken on April 29. We see holes in the roofs, partly completely collapsed roofs and buildings of which only rubble remains.
The UN coordinator in Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, announced on Thursday that she was going to the south of the country to prepare an evacuation attempt from Mariupol.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who visited Kyiv on Thursday, assured his side that the organization was doing “everything possible” to evacuate civilians stuck in the Mariupol “apocalypse,” which killed half a million people before the Russian Invasion started at the end of February.