Barely a hundred people, most of them elderly, women and children, manage to leave the Mariupol steel plant after two months of Russian siege
After two months in the hell of the Azovstal metallurgical plant, 101 civilians from Mariupol have come back to life. They did so thanks to the resumption of evacuations led by the United Nations and the International Red Cross. This Tuesday they arrived in Zaporizhia after a 48-hour trip to travel the 200 kilometers that separated them from this city under Ukrainian control. A story with a happy ending in the middle of one of the bloodiest episodes of this war: the Battle of Mariúpol.
“The worst thing was that you could hardly breathe. The feeling of suffocation was permanent, only comparable to the uncertainty of not knowing what was going to happen to us,” recalls Liana, 44, who got into one of the bunkers of the enormous metallurgical complex on February 24 and did not come out until May 1st. “The men of the Azov Battalion told us that there was an agreement for a safe exit and we immediately set off. The Russians were waiting for us outside. It is impossible to calculate the number of people left inside, it is a labyrinth of shelters”, Liliana explains excitedly when she is away from the fighting.
The UN described the process as “successful” and the ICRC assured that in total they managed to safely remove 159 people, including 101 from the Azovstal plant who “have seen the sunlight after two months” underground and another 58 who they have joined the convoy in Manhush, outside Mariupol. The international organization expected that they would be even more, so it asked kyiv and Moscow for urgent agreements to reach the people who are still underground.
Valentina, 70, breathes calmly and looks around in a daze. She is one of those who have spent these two months in the steel mill and she is moved when she remembers the moment when “a reporter came to us and told us that an evacuation was being negotiated. He also brought us diapers for the babies and some food. Since we heard those words, a door to hope was opened for us », she affirms with tears in her eyes. Food and water ran out over the days and “he always reserved the best part of the rations for the little ones.” In the shelter where Valentina has been, 72 people lived together. “Some tried to escape and we never heard from them again,” she says.
No news of their children
Among the newcomers are mainly women, children and the elderly. There are no men and survivors like Valentina, for example, they do not know the whereabouts of her children. A supermarket car park on the outskirts of Zaporizhia has become the arrival point for Ukrainians fleeing the occupied areas. The shopping center operates normally, but where customers used to park, there is now a large tent where meals are served and care posts of UN agencies, the ICRC or Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are located.
After the evacuations over the weekend, when a hundred people left, the process was stopped on Monday and fighting broke out again. This plant is the last focus of armed resistance in Mariupol and Russia wants to suffocate it to proclaim victory and give continuity to the Ukrainian zone it occupies in Crimea and Donbas.
The agreement allows civilians from Azovstal to leave their shelters, then they “had to go to a Russian camp where they interrogated us, they checked our phones, they took our fingerprints… A kind of filter. They threatened us and told us that we were registered and that it was better for us to leave Ukraine because when they conquered the whole country they would kill us », says Tatiana, « a young 40-year-old woman », as she wants us to introduce her. After identification and approval, they must choose the area to which they will be directed. Most opted for Zaporizhia, where they arrived protected by international organizations. “On the way we saw many people walking, but the Russians do not allow anyone to go up who has not passed through their fields before,” she says.
Russia resumes assault on steel mill
With artillery fire and bombardments from the air, the Russian Army charged this Tuesday mid-afternoon (once again) against the already dilapidated Azovstal steel complex, in what the Ukrainian authorities considered as the prelude to the final assault on the last stronghold of resistance in Mariupol.
Moscow did not delve into whether that was its strategy. He limited the attacks to a supposedly surgical action against “firing positions” that the Ukrainian fighters of the Azov battalion would have established “using” the truce of recent days. With the war focused on the east and south of the country, another attack in the same Donetsk region caused the death of at least ten people and fifteen wounded. The Russian Army hit once again (it did so on March 13) the Avdiivka chemical plant.
Macron y Johnson
And meanwhile, diplomatic activity continues to stall. Emmanuel Macron spoke again this Tuesday by phone with Vladimir Putin. The first time he had done so since his re-election as president of France. More than two hours of dialogue that transcended a demand and a reproach from Moscow. The Russian leader, according to a Kremlin statement, demanded an end to the western rearmament of kyiv and criticized his interlocutor for “ignoring Ukraine’s war crimes.” The Elysee did not comment. Boris Johnson became the first leader to speak virtually before the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday. The UK has pledged a further $375 million in aid to kyiv.