Several civilians, including women and children, were driven out of the last stronghold in Ukraine after a night of violent Russian attacks.
Russian state media and a Ukrainian soldier reported that several people, including women and children, were evacuated from a steel plant in the devastated city of Mariupol.
Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported on Saturday that 25 civilians were taken out of steel plants in Azovstal, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the bombed-out ruins of Mariupol.
The news agency said the group included 19 adults and six children, but gave no further details.
A senior official with the Azov battalion, the Ukrainian unit defending the plant, said 20 civilians had been evacuated during the ceasefire, though it was not clear if he was referring to the same group that Russian news reports were referring to.
“Twenty civilians, a woman and a child … have been taken to a suitable place and we hope that they will be evacuated to Zaporizhzhya, which is on the territory under the control of Ukraine,” Svyatoslav Balamar said in a video clip broadcast on the battalion’s Telegram channel.
He reported intense shelling of the site during the night and said that fighters were still passing through the rubble, searching for civilians to rescue.
He said, “All night long, enemy artillery bombarded the outpost.”
The Azov Regiment is still clearing the rubble to get the civilians out. We hope this procedure continues until we can evacuate all civilians.”
There was no confirmation from the United Nations of the evacuations. The world organization is trying to mediate the evacuation of civilians from the plant, the only part of Mariupol still in the hands of Ukrainian forces.
An estimated 1,000 civilians and several hundred Ukrainian soldiers are believed to be sheltering in the maze of underground tunnels beneath steel mills. Many of them require medical attention.
Call to evacuate fighters
Videos and photos from inside the factory, shared by two Ukrainian women with The Associated Press, who said their husbands were among the fighters refusing to surrender there, showed unidentified men with smeared bandages; Others had open wounds or had limbs amputated.
The women, who recognized their husbands as members of the Azov Regiment, said that a large medical staff treated at least 600 wounded. They said some of the wounds were rotting from gangrene.
The men in the video said they only eat once a day and share at least 1.5 liters (50 ounces) of water a day between four people, and that supplies inside the besieged facility have run out.
One of the shirtless men appeared to be in pain as he described his wounds: two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a dislocated arm that “was hanging over the body.”
“I want to say to everyone who sees this: if you don’t stop it here, in Ukraine, it will go further, to Europe,” he said.
The women told the Associated Press that the video was taken last week in the maze of driveways and bunkers under the factory.
They urged the evacuation of Ukrainian fighters alongside civilians, warning that they could be tortured and executed if captured.
“The lives of the soldiers are also important,” Yulia Fedosyuk told the Associated Press in Rome.
Saviano Abreu, a spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian office, said the world body was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and Kiev, but could not provide details of ongoing evacuation efforts “due to the complexity and fluidity of the operation”.
“There are, at the moment, ongoing high-level engagements with all governments, Russia and Ukraine, to make sure that you can save civilians and support the evacuation of civilians from the plant,” Abreu told The Associated Press.
He did not confirm that a video posted on social media purporting to show UN-marked vehicles in Mariupol.
Ukraine has blamed the failure of several previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian bombing.
The latest satellite imagery from US-based company Maxar Technologies, taken on Friday, shows the destruction of nearly all buildings in steel plants.
Some roofs were confined or completely collapsed, and some buildings were reduced to rubble.