Dozens of civilians evacuated from buildings near Azovstal steel plant

Dozens of civilians evacuated from buildings near Azovstal steel plant

Sprawling Azovstal steel factory remains the last outpost of Ukrainian resistance in the city of Mariupol.

Forty-six civilians were evacuated from residential buildings adjacent to the Azovstal plant in Mariupol on Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

A video released by the military on Sunday shows people leaving buses marked with the Z symbol. Ambulances can also be seen.

Two groups of civilians left the residential buildings next to the Azovstal steel plant on April 30, due to the establishment of a ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor.

It stated that 25 local residents left the site during the day and 21 left later.

The ministry said that all civilians were provided with accommodation, food and necessary medical assistance.

On April 21, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that Mariupol was fully under Russian control except for the last pocket of resistance of the Azovstal plant. The facility was built in Soviet times and has a huge network of underground tunnels that have been turned into a fortress by the Ukrainian forces.

Putin called off an attack on the plant and offered those who were encroaching there a chance to surrender. To anyone who lays down arms, Russia guaranteed the preservation of life and decent treatment under all international norms. The Ukrainian forces and the Azov militants demanded that they be allowed to leave the country with the help of an unnamed third party, while also keeping their personal weapons. They also maintained that surrender was not an option.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed earlier that Ukraine was responsible for the failure of previous attempts to set up humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians.

Kiev and Moscow have accused each other of disrupting the evacuation of civilians that are being trapped together with the Ukrainian fighters. During a recent visit to Moscow, UN chief Antonio Guterres told Putin that the organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross were ready to provide assistance in evacuating civilians from Azovstal. After Putin agreed in principle to the offer, the UN formed a working group to help with the evacuation.

In late February, Russia sent troops to Ukraine after Kiev failed to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow's eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join NATO. Kiev insists that the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied that it was planning to retake the two republics by force.