Forty-six civilians were evacuated from residential buildings adjacent to the Azovstal plant in Mariupol on Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
A video released by the military on Sunday shows people leaving in buses marked with the ‘Z’ symbol. Ambulances can also be seen.
- “On April 30, due to the establishment of a ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor, two groups of civilians left the residential buildings adjacent to the territory of the Azovstal steel plant,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
- It specified that 25 local residents left the site during the day and 21 left later.
“All civilians were provided with accommodation, food and the necessary medical assistance,” the ministry said.
On April 21, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that Mariupol was fully under Russian control except for the Azovstal plant – the last pocket of resistance.
Built in Soviet times, the facility has a massive network of underground tunnels, which has been turned into a fortress by the Ukrainian forces.
Putin called off an assault on the plant and instead offered those entrenched there a chance to surrender. To anyone who lays down arms Russia guaranteed preservation of life and “decent treatment under all international norms.”
- The Azov militants and the Ukrainian forces, however, demanded that they be allowed to leave with the assistance of an unnamed “third party” while also keeping their personal weapons. They also maintained that surrender was not an option.
The Russian Defense Ministry earlier claimed that Ukraine was at fault for the failure of previous attempts to set up humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians.
- Kiev and Moscow have accused each other of disrupting the evacuation of civilians said to be trapped together with the Ukrainian fighters. During a recent visit to Moscow, UN chief Antonio Guterres told Putin that the organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross were ready to provide assistance in evacuating civilians from Azovstal.
- After Putin agreed “in principle” to the offer, the UN formed a working group to help the evacuation.
Russia sent its troops to Ukraine in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join NATO.
Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.