© Reuters. A bus convoy carrying civilians from Mariupol, including evacuees from Azovstal steel plant, is seen on a road on the way to Zaporizhzhia, during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine May 2, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
By Joseph Campbell
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine/KYIV (Reuters) – The first evacuees from the ruins of Mariupol’s Azovstal steel works were expected to reach the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Monday after cowering in underground bunkers from Russian shelling for weeks.
The vast Azovstal industrial complex in the Sea of Azov port city that has been devastated by weeks of Russian shelling has served as a refuge for both civilians and a dwindling number of Ukrainian troops as Moscow has claimed control of Mariupol.
The United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross began an operation coordinated with Ukraine and Russia on April 29 to bring out women, children and the elderly from the steel works.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted that around 100 civilians would arrive in Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine on Monday.
“For the first time, we had two days of a ceasefire on this territory, and we managed to take out more than 100 civilians – women, children,” he said.
Some evacuees who had not been holed up in the steel works also arrived in Zaporizhzhia on Monday morning after travelling from Mariupol independently of the UN/Red Cross operation.
One woman arrived in a funeral van. She said she had left Mariupol some time ago and had been hiding in a basement in a nearby village.
Another convoy carrying civilians from Mariupol but not from Azovstal also left the city for Zaporizhzhia on Monday morning, the mayor’s aide Petro Andryushchenko told Ukrainian television.
There was no indication of a plan to pull out the Ukrainian forces holed up there. These are thought to include members of the Azov regiment, the national guard, marines, border guards and other units.
Russia resumed shelling of the industrial complex on Sunday once the evacuation buses had left the area, an aide to the mayor of Mariupol said.
“Yesterday, as soon as the buses left Azovstal with the evacuees, new shelling began immediately,” Andryushchenko said.
A group of relatives of the forces dug in there were due to gather at Kyiv’s Independence Square on Monday to travel towards Zaporizhzhia where they hope to lobby for the evacuation of their loved ones from Mariupol.