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Dozens were evacuated to both Russia-controlled and Ukraine controlled-territory. Fierce Russian bombardment has put the strategic southern port city under siege for over eight weeks. Azovstal steelworks is where the city’s last defenders are holed up, with more than 500 soldiers and around 1,000 civilians surviving – despite dwindling food, water and medical supplies – in the vast industrial area’s labyrinthine tunnel network.
One of those escaping the plant was 37-year-old Natalia Usmanova, who described what it was like when powerful bombs hit.
She said: “I feared that the bunker would not withstand it. I had terrible fear.
“When the bunker started to shake, I was hysterical.”
She added: “We didn’t see the sun for so long. You just can’t imagine what we have been through – the terror.
“I lived there, worked there all my life, but what we saw there was just terrible.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said work had now started on securing the evacuation of those remaining.
The once vibrant coastal metrop- olis was previously home to a population of 450,000 before indiscriminate Russian bombing of schools, town squares, shops, theatres and hospitals left the city reduced to rubble.
Russia indicated yesterday that dozens of civilians had arrived in Bezimenne, a village under its control. President Zelensky said a large group is also on its way to Zaporizhzhia, which Ukraine maintains control of.
He tweeted: “The first group of about 100 people is already heading to the controlled area. Tomorrow we’ll meet them in Zaporizhzhia. Grateful to our team! Now they, together with UN, are working on the evacuation of other civilians from the plant.”
The United Nations confirmed it was involved with the operation, along with the Red Cross and the “parties to the conflict”. The first 80 people left yesterday afternoon with more following.
Evacuees who wanted to go to Ukrainian-controlled regions have been handed over to representatives of the UN and the Red Cross. More than 90 per cent of the city’s infrastructure has been severely damaged, while 45 per cent of it has been completely destroyed, according to mayor Vadym Boychenko.
He added: “The citizens who left the city say that hell exists – and it’s in Mariupol.”
As well as the fighters and civilians in Azovstal, there are also an estimated 100,000 residents in other parts of the city surviving without mains water, electricity or gas.
But counterattacks by the Ukrainian military have seen four settlements recaptured from the Russians – Kutuzovka, Verkhyna Rohanka, Slobidske and Prelensne.
Yesterday, Pope Francis described the war as a “macabre regression of humanity” that makes him “suffer and cry”.
Speaking to thousands of people in St Peter’s Square, he implicitly criticised Russia, saying: “My thoughts go immediately to the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city of Mary, barbarously bombarded and destroyed.”
Last night it was claimed pro- Putin Chechen soldiers have been executing “heavily wounded” Russian troops.
Meanwhile, Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, 46 – special envoy for the UN Refugee Agency – was rushed to cover after an air raid siren warned of a possible missile attack while she visited Lviv on Saturday to meet children affected by the war.
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