At least 100 civilians, mostly women, children and elderly, were evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol city on Saturday, April 20, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed on Sunday. This was the first evacuation from the steel plant conducted in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Most of those evacuated left the plant first to a Russian controlled-area before leaving for Zaporizhia in south Ukraine.
Several other Ukrainian officials confirmed the evacuation through tweets on Sunday. They claimed that more evacuations will be conducted on Monday.
The evacuation of civilians from the city of Mariupol, in particular from the Azovstal metallurgical plant, began today.
We succeeded evacuating over 100 women, children and the elderly. Taking them to Zaporizhia.
— Andriy Yermak (@AndriyYermak) May 1, 2022
According to Russian media, hundreds of Ukrainian fighters, including members of the neo-Nazi Azov regiment, are still present in the tunnels under the Azovstal steel plant.
Last week, after claiming complete Russian control over the southern port city, Russian president Vladimir Putin had called off the strikes at the steel plant and asked the Ukrainian soldiers and militias from the neo-Nazi Azov battalion to surrender. Putin had also promised “decent treatment under all international norms” to all those who did the same. However, Ukraine refused to ask its soldiers to surrender even after the city was completely captured by the Russians.
After Putin’s offer of amnesty on April 21, Ukrainians had demanded that people at the steel plant be allowed to leave under the supervision of a “third party” and that the Ukrainian soldiers and fighters should be allowed to keep their weapons.
Before Zelensky’s tweet, RT had reported the evacuation of 46 civilians from buildings near the steel plant on Saturday, April 30. According to RT, civilians left the area in two different groups and were halted at a Russian camp before leaving for Ukrainian-controlled areas.
Russia has claimed to have offered humanitarian corridors on several occasions in the past for all civilians who wanted to leave the plant. Ukraine refused to use the corridors claiming that they are not safe.
Ukraine’s refusal to evacuate civilians from the steel plant led Russia to accuse Ukrainian soldiers at the plant of using civilians as human shields against its advances. It alleged that the Ukrainian government wanted to make their own soldiers martyrs.
The current deal to evacuate civilians from Mariupol was finalized after UN secretary general Antonio Guterres visited Moscow last week.
Possibility of fresh talks
Meanwhile, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed on Sunday that president Recep Tayyib Erdogan is constantly in touch with Ukrainian president Zelensky and Russian president Putin in order to get them to agree to meet in order to resolve the issues and end the war.
Russia earlier claimed that there will be no meeting between the two heads of states until some formal agreement is finalized. However, recently, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov expressed the possibility of such a meeting in case there are enough indications of it being fruitful, Tass reported.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on several occasions has blamed the West for pressuring Ukraine to derail the talks and prolong the war.
1/8 Lavrov discloses the impasse in Russia-Ukraine negotiations:
“As Vladimir Zelensky asked, we agreed to hold talks, they started developing. Some agreements were outlined at a meeting of negotiators in March in Istanbul on the basis of what Zelensky said publicly.
— M. K. Bhadrakumar (@BhadraPunchline) May 2, 2022
Turkey has hosted several rounds of talks between Russia and Ukraine in March in which both the parties claimed to have made advances. However, talks are hampered since the Ukrainian accusation of mass killing of civilians at Bucha allegedly by the retreating Russian forces in the first week of April. Russia has denied the allegations and demanded an international inquiry into the matter, claiming that the killings were faked to halt progress in the talks.