The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working with the United Nations on an ongoing operation to remove people from Mariupol and the besieged Azovstal steel plant, the ICRC said in a statement.
“The ICRC confirms that a safe passage operation is underway, in coordination with the UN and the parties to the conflict. The convoy to evacuate civilians started on April 29, traveled some 230 kilometers and reached the factory in Mariupol, according to the statement Saturday morning, local time. “The ICRC insists that no details can be shared until the situation permits, as this could seriously endanger the security of the civilians and the convoy. The relevant local authorities are communicating with the civilians on practical details.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed in a tweet on Sunday that the “evacuation of civilians from Azovstal began”.
“The first group of about 100 people is already going to the controlled area,” he added.
Mariupol’s city council said on Sunday there was an “opportunity” to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol.
The Council urged people to gather near a shopping center called “Port City” at 4 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET) to evacuate them to the southern region of Zaporizhzhya.
“If you have relatives or acquaintances in Mariupol, try to reach them by any means possible. Call, text and say that it is possible to go to Zaporozhzhia, where it is safe,” the Council said on Telegram.
“We pray that everything works,” it added.
A local Telegram station previously said a “green corridor” would be open until 3 p.m. local time for civilians who wanted to enter the area “held by the enemy in the Kamensky district”.
There are still about 100,000 people in Mariupol, although most of the city has been badly damaged by weeks of shelling and air raids by Russian forces.
Ukrainian officials have provided more details about the evacuation of civilians trapped in Azovstal’s steep factory.
David Arakhamia, an adviser to President Zelensky, said: “Today is the third day of a special operation we call ‘Azovstal evacuation’. Over 100 civilians – small children, women and the elderly.”
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Ukrainian television: “Sorry, we were silent. We really wanted everything to work out. Our silence was to get people out alive and unharmed. More than 100 people have been evacuated, and the evacuation continues. All this has happened thanks to the control of the President of Ukraine Zelensky, Antonio Guterres, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, for which we are very, very grateful.”
Some more context: Mariupol is home to the Azovstal steel plant, which has been heavily bombed by Russia in recent weeks. Hundreds of people, dozens of them injured, are said to be in the steel production complex.
The Russian news agency TASS says that, according to the defense ministry in Moscow, 80 civilians have now been rescued from the “territory” of the Azovstal plant and have been evacuated to a Russian-controlled compound a few kilometers away.
It is unclear whether any of them came from the factory itself, where hundreds of civilians have been bombed for weeks.
“Citizens evacuated from the Azovstal factory by Russian military personnel who wanted to leave for areas controlled by the Kiev regime have been handed over to representatives of the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the ministry said.
The report followed comments from a Ukrainian commander at the plant who said some civilians had been evacuated from the steel plant following the introduction of a ceasefire.
It was hoped that these civilians, all women and children, would go to the “agreed upon destination” of Zaporizhzhya, said Captain Svyatoslav Palamar.
Kostan Nechyporenko of DailyExpertNews contributed to this report.