Day of Mixed feelings for those responsible for humanitarian organizations in Ukraine. On the one hand, they were able to congratulate themselves first civilians evacuated from the giant Azovstal steel plant, close to the port city of Mariupol and surrounded by Russian troops for weeks, could reach the relative safety of Zaporizhia, already in territory under the control of the kyiv government. But, as has been the usual pattern since the beginning of the conflict, the Russian side only partially complied with what was promised, chartering fewer buses than those initially agreed upon and losing track of some of the vehicles during the tripwhich could indicate that they have been diverted to territory under Moscow control. Of course, the forces that besiege the place have resumed this Tuesday the assault with armored vehicles, infantry and amphibious forces from the sea.
“We wish that many more people had been able to join the convoy and get out of hell,” said Pascal Hundt of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). And it is that only three of the 14 buses that left Mariúpol with a hundred people on board, most of them pensioners and minorsThey have managed to reach their destination. According to the mayor of this port city, Vadim Boychenko, the whereabouts of the rest of the vehicles are unknown. “When we announced, the Russian side agreed to the evacuation (from Mariupol) and we agreed that they would give us 90 buses,” the president said.
Since the beginning of the conflict, Russia has put innumerable obstacles to the materialization of humanitarian corridors, particularly in the regions that have recently come under their control, all of which are inhabited by Russian-speaking Ukrainians. The Ukrainian authorities have denounced the forced transfer to Russia of tens of thousands of people, a measure reminiscent of the deportations of entire ethnic groups or populations during the era of the dictator Stalin. For weeks, the evacuation of civilians in Azovstal has been a burning issue, which has only been unblocked thanks to the good offices of the UN Secretary General, the Portuguese António Guterres, who visited both countries last week.
But not even what was agreed on paper with the head of the international organization has been finally put into practice in its entirety. And therefore, aware that they will be necessary new steps to make complete evacuation possible of the besieged population, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, raised the issue during a telephone conversation he had with the Russian head of state on Tuesday.
“goodbye to life”
“We had said goodbye to life; we thought no one knew we were there“, Valetina Sytnykova, who stayed in the place with her son and ten-year-old granddaughter for two months, that is, almost from the beginning of hostilities, has assured the Reuters agency. “My granddaughter kept repeating to me : ‘I’m scared, I’m scared’, and I told him ‘everything is fine, we are going to fly out of here tomorrow'”, he recounted, between sobs. The bunker in which he was taking refuge sank due to Russian bombing , and three days ago, Ukrainian soldiers rescued them from the rubble.
“I can’t believe we made it; we just want to rest“said Alina Kozutskaya, who has spent weeks sheltering in a basement with her belongings packed waiting for an opportunity to flee. Many of the evacuees had left relatives behind. “We think that after the departure of the civilians, the men will stay behind; they have no food, water or ammunition; have been forgotten by everyone,” reported Ksenia Chebyseva, 29, whose husband, a member of the Azov regiment, is inside the gigantic factory.
And certainly, that seems to be the current development of events. In a video message posted on Telegram, Sviatoslav Palamar of the Azov battalion revealed that the steel mill was shelled overnight with naval artillery and heavy bombs dropped from military aircraft. “Right now, a powerful assault against Azovstal is taking place,” he announced. Azovstal is a gigantic metallurgical complex whose ghostly profile is well visible from various points in the city of Mariupol. Privatized in 1996, its main shareholder is Metinvest, an industrial conglomerate in the hands of the oligarch Rimat Akhmetov, the richest man in Ukraine, with a fortune valued at 4,000 million dollars.