About 20 women and children have been evacuated from Mariupol’s embattled Azovstal steel plant, according to a Ukrainian commander in the factory and Russian state media.
The news came amid United Nations-backed efforts to broker a cease-fire to allow hundreds of trapped civilians and Ukrainian fighters to escape the factory, the last bastion of resistance in the besieged city of Mariupol.
In a video posted to Telegram, Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment at the plant, said that after hours of waiting, an evacuation convoy had arrived at an agreed location on Saturday to bring civilians from the ruins of the plant to a safe place.
He added that he hoped they would be brought to Zaporizhzhia, a city to the northwest that remains in Ukrainian control. He told The New York Times that evacuation efforts would continue on Sunday if the Russians “don’t start shooting again.”The steel plant, a sprawling complex with a mazelike system of bunkers beneath it, has served as a shelter for unknown numbers of people for weeks, as Russian forces shelled and closed in on Mariupol.
Captain Palamar said that cave-ins from Russian bombardment had made it difficult to evacuate civilians, and that special equipment was needed to help more people. He did not provide further details.
Russia’s TASS news agency said one of its correspondents on the scene reported that 25 people — including six children — had emerged from the plant. RIA Novosti, a Russian state news agency, reported the same.
The sprawling Azovstal plant has become the last refuge for thousands of trapped Ukrainian fighters and civilians. Russian soldiers control the rest of the city, and fighting has continued around the plant. Ukrainian officials have been pleading for a cease-fire to allow evacuations, saying there is little food or water left inside and time is running out.
Efforts to establish safe evacuation corridors have been repeatedly foiled by Russia’s continued shelling.
Over the past several days, Ukrainian forces at the steel complex have posted videos on social media calling attention to the dire situation there for civilians taking refuge, particularly women and children.