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Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Saturday that the humanitarian mission in Mariupol had been “completed” and that all women, children and elderly civilians had been pulled from the Azovstal steel plant.
“All women, children and elderly people have been evacuated from Azovstal. This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation has been completed,” Vereshchuk said on social media.
The fate of Ukrainian troops hunkered in the plant’s tunnels remains unclear.
Hundreds of soldiers and civilians have been holed up in the tunnels deep underneath the steel plant for months seeking shelter from Russia’s assault on the port city.
In this handout photo taken from video released on Wednesday, May 4, 2022 by Donetsk People’s Republic Interior Ministry Press Service, Smoke rises from the Metallurgical Combine Azovstal in Mariupol.
(Donetsk People’s Republic Interior Ministry Press Service via AP)
Ukraine and international officials urged Russia for weeks to stop its constant bombing campaign on the already pulverized plant to allow humanitarian evacuations to be carried out.
Ukrainian soldiers have refused to surrender to Russian forces and urged President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to form an evacuation plan for them.
Officials are concerned the final Ukrainian holdout in Mariupol could be wiped out by Russian forces as they look to end the resistance in the port city in time for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “Victory Day” parade on May 9.
Civilian evacuations brokered by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross began last week to remove an estimated 200 individuals holed up in the tunnels.
Women walk past a destroyed apartment building in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, on Monday, May 2.
But as recently as Friday, evacuations were stalled due to Russia’s continued assault on the plant.
Mariupol’s city council said Russia violated Friday’s ceasefire and used anti-tank guided missiles to hit a car that was being driven by Ukrainian servicemen.
“This car was moving towards civilians in order to evacuate them from the plant,” the council said in a Telegram post. “As the result of the shelling, one fighter was killed and six were wounded.”
The post included graphic images of a bloodied soldier whose arm was badly injured and wrist appeared broken.
It remains unclear if civilian men have been allowed to evacuate as well or if they remain with the Ukrainian soldiers.