Civilians flee Azovstal bunkers from Mariupol during a UN-led evacuation

  • Civilian groups leave Azovstel steel jobs
  • UN confirms eviction
  • The siege of Mariupol devastated the city
  • Pope says Mariupol ‘bombed savagely’

Pesimanne, Ukraine, May 1 (Reuters) – Civilians were evacuated Sunday from the bunkers of Mariupolin azostel steel works after the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross facilitated the testing of the most devastating siege in Ukraine.

Russian forces attacked the port city for nearly two months, turning Mariupol into a ruined land, with an unknown death toll and thousands trying to survive without water, sanitation or food.

The city is under Russian control, but some militants and civilians remain underground in the Azovstal work – a vast Soviet-era plant established under Joseph Stalin and designed with bunkers and tunnels to withstand the onslaught.

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A Reuters photographer spotted dozens of civilians arriving at the makeshift shelter on Sunday. The United Nations later said it had been evacuating people from steel jobs since Friday.

“The United Nations, in conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the parties to the conflict, is committed to ensuring the safe passage of the Azovstal steel plant,” said UN spokesman Saviano Abreu.

“At this stage, we will not share further details as the activities are ongoing and may endanger the safety of the public and the convoy,” he said.

The ICRC said the convoy traveled 230 kilometers (143 miles) and reached the steel works.

A Reuters photographer spotted civilians approaching the village of Pesimenne in the Donetsk region, controlled by pro-Russian separatists 30 km (20 miles) east of Mariupol.

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After weeks of suffering they were refreshed and cared for.

Those evacuated from the plant included small children – where people were frightened underground and hid together under blankets in the plant’s bunkers and tunnels, and the shelling shattered their city.

President Volodymyr Zhelensky tweeted that the first group of 100 evacuees would arrive in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Saporizia on Monday.

He also said that Ukraine was working with the United Nations to expel other civilians from Azovstale.

“The move is (still) ongoing,” Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vareshuk said in a video conference.

Gelensky’s chief executive, Andrei Yermak, suggested that the evictions could go further than the general public involved in the steel works.

“This is the first step, and we will expel our civilians and troops from Mariupol,” he wrote in the Telegram.

Outside the blue tents in Bezimenne, two children were thinking. A woman emotionally clasped her hands to her face. A young woman reached out to hit the cat.

Civilians seen by Reuters were evacuated in a convoy of vehicles with Russian troops and UN logos.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said after his meeting with Gelensky in Kiev on Thursday that serious discussions were underway to oust Azovstol.

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On Sunday, Pope Francis described Mariupol as being “brutally bombed and destroyed”, saying the war in Ukraine “hurt and weeps” and called on humanitarian corridors to evacuate people trapped in Mariupol Steelwork. read more

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the February 24 invasion a “special military operation” because the United States used Ukraine to threaten Russia and Moscow had to defend Russian-speakers against persecution.

Ukraine and the West have rejected these arguments as baseless excuses for war, and Kiev calls Putin’s claims of genocide nonsense.

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Report by Tom Balmforth, Max Hunder and Alessandra Prentice Edited by Guy Balkanbridge, Angus MacSwan and Francis Kerry

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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