Turkey to evacuate Ukrainian fighters, civilians from Azovstal steelworks

Turkey to evacuate Ukrainian fighters, civilians from Azovstal steelworks

Russia has so far not agreed to the plan, according to Ankara.

The Turkish government has offered to evacuate Ukrainian fighters and civilians from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan s top adviser Ibrahim Kalin told Reuters on Saturday.

There are only fighters from the neo-Nazi Azov regiment and some units of the Ukrainian military inside the facility. Both Russia and Ukraine said last week that the evacuation of civilians from the sprawling industrial complex was complete.

Under the Turkish plan, wounded fighters and civilians would be taken by land to the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk, controlled by Russian forces, and then transported to Istanbul. Kalin did not explain why the land transfer was necessary, because Mariupol has a large port of its own.

If it can be done that way, we are happy to do it. Kalin said that our ship is ready to go and bring the injured soldiers and other civilians to Turkey. It may happen, yes. Ukrainian forces holed up in the steelworks have repeatedly urged foreign leaders, including Turkey's President Erdogan, to help them get out. They have vowed to fight, refusing to surrender to the forces of Russia and the Donetsk People's Republic, calling this outcome a gift for the enemy Russia attacked Ukraine in late February after Kiev s failure 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-brokered protocols were 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 the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists that the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims that it was planning to take the two republics by force.