Ukraine War: Russia Shells Mariupol Plant With Civilians Still Reportedly Trapped

UN-led rescue operation sees more than 100 civilians evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant, official says, as Russian forces seek to take over port city and cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea

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People walk their bikes across the street as smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday.
People walk their bikes across the street as smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday.Credit: REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
Reuters
Reuters

The head of the Red Cross in Ukraine said on Tuesday that an unknown number of civilians remained trapped in Mariupol and surrounding areas after it evacuated more than 100 civilians from the Azovstal plant.

"We would have hoped that many more people would have been able to join the convoy and get out of hell. That is why we have mixed feelings," Pascal Hundt from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told journalists by Zoom.

He also expressed concern about signs that intense fighting had resumed in and around the plant but said the ICRC would continue to press for access to the remaining civilians. 

Russian troops shelled and bombed the Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine's southern port city of Mariupol on Tuesday, confirming earlier reports of strikes on the encircled plant, where the mayor said civilians were still trapped.

According to the RIA news agency, Russia's defense ministry said its forces had started to destroy Ukrainian firing positions established after the defenders "took advantage" of a UN-brokered ceasefire that had allowed several groups of civilians to escape the plant in the previous two days.

A Mariupol police official told the public broadcaster Suspine that Russian forces had begun trying to seize the sprawling plant, which became a refuge for both civilians and Ukrainian fighters as Moscow laid siege to Mariupol, devastating the city.

People rest next to a bus as civilians from Mariupol, including evacuees from Azovstal steel plant, travel in a convoy to Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Tuesday. Credit: REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

A deputy commander of the Azov regiment holed up in the steel works told the Ukrainska Pravda news outlet that the storming operation had begun after Russian aircraft bombed the site overnight.

Mariupol is a major target for Russia as it seeks to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea and join up Russian-controlled territory in the south and east. The steelworks lies adjacent to southern Ukraine's main east-west highway.

According to Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko, more than 200 civilians remain in the Azovstal steel plant and about 100,000 civilians are still in Mariupol.

Evacuation

While hundreds of civilians remained trapped in the steel plant,  dozens of evacuees who cowered for weeks in the ruins reached the safety of Kyiv-controlled Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday where hospitals were ready to treat people for anything from burns to malnutrition.

"Thanks to the operation, 101 women, men, children, and older persons could finally leave the bunkers below the Azovstal steelworks and see the daylight after two months," Osnat Lubrani, UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said.

The United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross coordinate a five-day operation on April 29 to bring out women, children and the elderly from the steel works. 

Hospitals have been stocked up and supported by volunteers to prepare for the arrival of the convoy, Dr Dorit Nizan, World Health Organization (WHO) Incident Manager for Ukraine, said by Zoom from Zaporizhzhia.

"We are ready for… burns, fractures and wounds, as well as diarrhea, respiratory infections. We are also ready to see if there are pregnant women, children with malnutrition. We are all here and the health system is well-prepared," she said.

She said some people had arrived recently by making their own way from villages near Mariupol and had minor injuries, but that mental health was the "big issue."

"Many cried when they arrived when they were met by family members. It was very moving," she said.

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