Around 100 civilians have been evacuated from the besieged city of Mariupol in the east of Ukraine, after a deal was brokered by the United Nations and the International Red Cross following weeks of failed negotiations.
Non-combatants were extracted from the Azovstal steel plant, the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the city that was attacked on the first day of the Russian invasion and has been under siege since March 2nd.
“A safe passage operation…is ongoing today”, said Saviano Abreu, spokesperson for the UN’s office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs, saying that efforts were being managed “in coordination with the parties to the conflict”.
“As the operations are still ongoing, we will not provide further details at this point,” he added.
Those rescued from Mariupol will arrive in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Monday.
The Russian defense ministry confirmed the successful evacuation of civilians but gave a lower total of 80 as having left the Azovstal plant. “Those who wished to leave for areas controlled by the Kyiv regime were handed over to UN and ICRC (Red Cross) representatives,” a statement from the ministry said.
Mariupol has been the scene of some of the most brutal atrocities since the Russian invasion commenced on February 24th. The death toll inside the city is unknown, but authorities claim that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed.
The steelworks has become the location of the last stand for the small pocket of Ukrainian soldiers left defending the city. Along with soldiers there are reportedly hundreds of civilians hiding in the network of tunnels underneath the Soviet-era facility.