Photo: DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images
Russian forces on Tuesday began storming the steel plant that contains the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, Ukrainian advocates said, just as dozens of civilians evacuated from the bombed-out plant reached relative safety and spoke of days and nights filled with fear and despair from the constant shelling.
Osnat Lubrani, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said that thanks to the evacuation effort over the weekend, 101 people, including women, the elderly and 17 children, the youngest 6 months, were able to get out of the bunkers under the Azovstal steelworks and “see the light of day after two months.”
One evacuee said that she went to sleep on the floor every night in fear of not waking up.
The evacuees, some of whom were crying, stepped off the buses into a tent that offered some of the comforts they were denied for weeks underground, like hot food, diapers and connections to the outside world.
Mothers fed small children. Some of the evacuees searched racks of donated clothing, including new underwear.
The news for those left behind was bleaker. Ukrainian commanders said Russian forces backed by tanks began storming the plant, which includes a maze of tunnels and bunkers spread over 4 square miles.
It is not known how many Ukrainian fighters were hiding inside, but the Russians put the number at around 2,000 in recent weeks, and 500 were reported injured. A few hundred civilians also remained there, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
“We will do everything possible to repel the assault, but we ask for urgent measures to evacuate the civilians who remain inside the plant and get them out safely,” said Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment on the Telegram messaging app.
He added that throughout the night, the plant was attacked with naval artillery fire and air strikes. Two female civilians were killed and 10 civilians wounded, it said.
Lubrani, the UN coordinator, expressed hope for more evacuations but said none had been resolved.
Attacks in other parts of Ukraine
In other battlefield developments, Russian troops shelled a chemical plant in the eastern city of Avdiivka, killing at least 10 people, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
Also explosions were heard in Lviv, in western Ukraine, near the border with Poland. The attacks damaged three electrical substations, cut power to parts of the city and cut off water supplies, injuring two people, the mayor said.
Lviv has been a gateway for NATO-supplied weapons and a haven for those fleeing fighting in the east.
A rocket also hit an infrastructure facility in a mountainous area in Transcarpacia, a region in the far west of Ukraine that borders Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, officials said. There was no immediate news of casualties.
Ukrainian authorities said the Russians also attacked at least half a dozen railway stations across the country.
It may interest you:
– “Only after Putin understands that he cannot achieve a victory will we have a chance to end this war”
– Pope Francis would be willing to travel to Moscow and meet with Putin to end the war
– Russia increases military recruitment after the heavy losses it has suffered in Ukraine