Ukraine: Civilians now out of Azovstal plant in Mariupol

All elderly people, women and children have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine and Russia have announced.

The operation began a week ago, co-ordinated by the United Nations and Red Cross, which have not confirmed the news.

Ukrainian forces are holding out at the heavily bombed plant, the last part of the city not under Russian control.

Russia has besieged the plant for weeks, demanding the surrender of its defenders from the Azov battalion.

The whereabouts of the evacuees are not yet clear, but Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said this part of the humanitarian operation was now complete. In the past, it has taken days for those evacuated to reach Ukrainian-held territory.

Earlier this week, it was estimated that 200 civilians were still trapped inside the plant.

In its announcement, the Russian defence ministry said 51 people had been evacuated over a period of three days.

Capturing Mariupol is important to Russian troops because it will allow them to complete a land bridge between Crimea and the Donbas region, as well as giving them full control of more than 80% of Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline.

But in their quest to do so, they have pummelled Mariupol with artillery, rockets and missiles – damaging or destroying more than 90% of the city. (BBC)

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