Some 100 people have left the steel plant in Mariupol city, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
Some 100 people left the grounds of the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in the Black Sea port city of Mariupol and are heading for territory controlled by Ukrainian forces, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday. The plant remains the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the city that is otherwise controlled by Russian forces and militias of the Donbass republics.
Zelensky said Ukrainian officials are still working together with UN representatives on evacuating civilians from the area, and that the evacuees will be transferred to the Ukrainian city of Zaporozhye on May 2.
A UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesman, Saviano Abreu, has also confirmed to reporters that the evacuation operation began on April 29 and is coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as Russia and Ukraine.
The evacuation of Ukraine's top negotiator at the talks with Moscow, David Arakhamia, has called it the most difficult operation since the beginning of the conflict. He said that more than 100 Ukrainians, including children, women and the elderly, are now safe. The politician added that a lot of people still need to be evacuated from the steel plant.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that some 80 civilians have left the plant's territory. Russian forces and the Donbass republics have maintained a ceasefire in the area and opened a humanitarian corridor for civilians.
According to Russian media, all those evacuated were transported to the village of Bezymennoe, controlled by the Donbass militias, and provided with shelter, food and medical assistance. The media said that civilians who wanted to travel further to Ukrainian-controlled areas were handed over to UN and Red Cross representatives.
The Azovstal steel plant still houses hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers, including fighters of the notorious Neo-Nazi Azov regiment. The Soviet times, the facility has a large network of underground tunnels, which has been turned into a fortress by the Ukrainian forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called off an assault on the plant and urged those who were inside its premises to surrender. Russia would guarantee anyone who lays down arms preservation of life and decent treatment under all international norms, the president said last week.
The Ukrainian forces and the Azov militants demanded that they be allowed to leave the country with the help of a third party while keeping their personal weapons. On Friday, one of the Ukrainian commanders called for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to organize an extraction operation for him and his men, while stating that there are civilians as well as hundreds of injured soldiers hiding at the plant.
Russia previously tried to create humanitarian corridors for those holed up at the facility, but those attempts failed. Kiev and Moscow have accused each other of disrupting the evacuation of civilians said to be trapped together with the Ukrainian fighters.
Russia sent troops into Ukraine in late February after Kiev didn't implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, which were first signed in 2014, and Moscow's eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French Minsk Protocol was created to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
Since then, the Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join NATO. Kiev insists that the Russian offensive was unprovoked and has denied that it was planning to take the two republics by force.