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Civilians from Mariupol at a refugee intake center in Zaporizhzhia. May 3, 2022

Ukrainian civilians evacuated after weeks of hiding in Azovstal steel plant

Source: Meduza
Civilians from Mariupol at a refugee intake center in Zaporizhzhia. May 3, 2022
Civilians from Mariupol at a refugee intake center in Zaporizhzhia. May 3, 2022
Francisco Seco / AP / Scanpix / LETA

On the evening of May 3, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine Osnat Lubrani announced that evacuees from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol had successfully made it to Zaporizhzhia. The operation to rescue the civilians, who spent weeks hiding in the plant without basic necessities, was a high priority for Ukraine’s leadership; on May 1, Ukrainian officials referred to it as a great success that they had achieved in cooperation with the UN and the International Red Cross. Organizing the evacuation entailed UN Secretary General António Guterres speaking with the Presidents of both Ukraine and Russia; eventually, according to the Ukrainian side, Russia agreed to a ceasefire.

Various sources provide conflicting data on the number of people who were evacuated. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced it was 156 people. According to Osnat Lubrani, 101 people left the steel plant, 58 more joined the evacuated convoy in the village of Manhush, and 127 ultimately made it to Zaporizhzhia (she didn’t explain the discrepancy). Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that about 100 civilians left the plant. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that 122 exited the plant over the weekend but that only 69 of them decided to go to Ukrainian-controlled territory, with the rest choosing to “stay in the DNR.”

There have also been reports of evacuations to Ukrainian-controlled territory from other districts in Mariupol. The city authorities have announced meeting points for people who want to evacuate, including outside of the Port City shopping mall, but those evacuations have been postponed multiple times. On May 3, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko reported that only three of 14 evacuation buses that departed from Mariupol had arrived in Ukrainian territory, and that the other 11 had “gotten lost somewhere.” “They get lost in these filtration centers, unfortunately,” he said.

Not all civilians have left Azovstal — according to Boychenko, about 200 people remain in the plant. The Ukrainian authorities, as well as representatives from international organizations, have spoken about the necessity of evacuating them, too.

On May 3, the Azov Battalion reported that two women had died as a result of new air and artillery strikes on Azovstal. According to them, Russian forces are trying to breach the plant with the help of air assault forces as well as tanks and other armored vehicles. On May 3, Russia announced it was renewing its assault on the facility since Ukrainian soldiers had allegedly “taken advantage of the ceasefire at Azovstal and taken their firing positions.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin previously ordered the country’s Defense Ministry to blockade the plant rather than firing on it.