regular-article-logo Monday, 25 September 2023

Civilians desperate to evacuate Mariupol steel plant

Ukraine officials vow to remove refugees from the ruined city of Mariupol despite Russia shelling

Marc Santora, Shashank Bengali Published 03.05.22, 01:38 AM
Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol

Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol File Picture

Ukrainian officials vowed on Monday to carry out a large-scale evacuation from the ruined city of Mariupol despite early-morning shelling that threatened to derail the best and possibly last hope for hundreds of civilians trapped for weeks in bunkers beneath the wreckage of what was once one of Europe’s largest steel plant.

Russian forces also pummelled targets in eastern and southern Ukraine on Monday, continuing a two-week offensive that has struggled to claim much new ground even as they suffer heavy casualties. A British intelligence agency said on Monday that the Russian losses in the war have been staggering, and that one in four of the invasion units deployed to Ukraine have been “rendered combat ineffective”.


As Russian casualties have grown in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance, the US and its allies have been emboldened, rushing new military and economic aid to Kyiv. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who became the highest-ranking US official to visit Kyiv and pledged over the weekend to support Ukraine “until victory is won”, met on Monday with President Andrzej Duda of Poland, a key ally.

Pelosi will soon return to Washington, where Congress is expected to take up President Biden’s request for an additional $33 billion in military aid, putting the US on pace to spend more than the annual average it spent on the war in Afghanistan.

The plight of civilians trapped in Mariupol, which endured weeks of bombardment before Russian forces captured most of it, has been a focus of humanitarian concern as the war has ground on into a third month.

Thousands are believed to have been killed and those still stuck in the besieged Azovstal complex, whose network of bunkers and tunnels has provided shelter, were running out of water, food and medicine.

“The situation has become a sign of a real humanitarian catastrophe,” Ukrainian deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

On other fronts, towns in eastern Ukraine were coming under intense Russian bombardment, a regional governor said. A Russian rocket strike hit a main bridge across the Dniester estuary just west of the port city of Odessa in southwest Ukraine, authorities said.

EU energy ministers were due to hold emergency talks in Brussels on Moscow’s demand that European buyers pay for Russian gas in roubles or face their supply being cut off.

A first group of evacuees from Mariupol had been due to arrive in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia, 230km northwest of Mariupol, on Monday.

But the city council said the buses had not yet reached the agreed pick-up point, contradicting an earlier report that they had already left. The council urged the evacuees to remain in place.

The civilians in question are from the city itself, not from the Azovstal steel works.

Footage from inside the steel works showed members of the Azov regiment helping civilians though rubble and on to a bus. But hundreds remain trapped inside.

One older evacuee accompanied by young children said survivors were running out of food. “Children always wanted to eat. You know, adults can wait,” she said. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces are now in control of nearly all the Sea of Azov city, linking up territory to the west and east.

New York Times News Service and Reuters

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