They were able to leave the hell of battles for an uncertain future. In Mariupol, a large city in southeastern Ukraine that turned into a field in ruins, one hundred civilians managed to leave without clashes, on Sunday, May 1, the Azovstal plant, the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in this strategic port of the Donbass. Almost entirely under Russian control. These evacuations are the first for Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, refugees in this vast steel site, besieged and bombarded by the Russian army for weeks on end. As kyiv struggles to negotiate a sustainable humanitarian corridor, franceinfo is assessing the situation.
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First evacuation after intense negotiations
Talks between the Ukrainian government and Vladimir Putin’s regime began to bear fruit. This Sunday has already seen “More than 100 civilians, including women and children, fled the hostilities”Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced during his daily video address on Facebook (document translated in English). This rescue comes after several failed attempts, as Russian forces have not yet reached an agreement with the United Nations and Ukrainian authorities.
“There is not a single day that we do not try to find a solution for our citizens”President Zelensky, who specified that civilians The evacuees from the Azovstal complex were heading towards the Ukrainian-controlled part of the country. It was expected on Monday in Zaporizhia, a large city located 200 km west of Mariupol.
Our team is currently engaged in an ongoing process to facilitate the safe passage of civilians outside the Azovstal and Mariupol plant towards Zaporizhia.
– International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) May 1, 2022
Representatives of the United Nations and Red Cross teams, which took care of the civilians who were released from the industrial complex on Sunday, remain at the site and hope “To be able to repeat this type of operation as quickly as possible”He explained Monday to a Red Cross official in Kyiv, franceinfo. The NGO, such as the United Nations, wants to remain very cautious and not give further details about the evacuation, for fear of ‘Putting civilians at risk’ As well as humanitarian convoys. No new wave of evacuations has been announced so far.
About 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are holed up in the factory
The huge Azovstal steel complex, spanning 12 square kilometers, saw hundreds of soldiers from the Ukrainian side retreat as the Russian army and pro-Russian separatists tightened their grip on the port city of Mariupol. Kyiv and Moscow almost agree on this 2000 fighters are still entrenched in these facilities, the network of which allows you to organize ambushes and thereby repel the enemy.
Among these soldiers are the majority of the members of the Azov Battalion, a controversial military group that takes its name from the Sea of Azov and has been attached to the Ukrainian armed forces since 2014. After trying to counter the Russian invasion, members of the 36 The Venice Naval Brigade also retreated to the site.
Russia also confirms this “foreign mercenaries” They will also hide in the factory, repeatedly charging the trapped fighters (in English) Use of civilians present as “human shields” – something Kyiv has systematically denied. The Russian military also continues to call on fighters to lay down their weapons so that they can leave the site alive. A guarantee that Ukrainian soldiers considered insufficient, who survived by rationing water and food.
Hundreds of civilians are still sheltering underground
In addition to these military elements, the industrial site of Azovstal also saw an influx of Mariupol residents fleeing the repeated shelling of the Russian army at the beginning of March. The great port city had a population of half a million before the war. According to the Ukrainian authorities, there are still from 100 thousand to 120 thousand people. As the Ukrainian side claims that at least It is believed that 20,000 people have died there since the Russian blockade began in early March, and that 90% of the town’s homes have been destroyed by bombing – a number that has not yet been independently verified.
How many civilians are still refugees in this steel complex? Hard to say for sure. A few days ago, Kyiv announced that a thousand people were hiding in the bowels of the factory. That number was confirmed by Sergei Olof, the mayor of Mariupol, at the BFMTV microphone on Thursday. To escape Russian strikes, civilians and soldiers live underground and can move through miles of factory tunnels, RTBF reported. On the site, the living conditions are described as “very Difficult” By the Ukrainians who managed to leave the complex.
Despite the evacuation that was organized on Sunday, the fate of the Ukrainians hiding in the plant remains a mystery. The hypothesis of the Russian military’s withdrawal appears increasingly under threat. On Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russian soldiers “No modification[aie]nt their actions artificially” As of May 9And The day of the Nazi surrender to the Allies in 1945 – which the Kremlin usually celebrates with great fanfare. Above all, full control of Mariupol would allow Russia to own all the major ports in the Sea of Azov, located between Russia and Crimea, which it had annexed in 2014.