Mariupol evacuation: why are Ukrainians trapped in Azovstal steel works, and how many have been evacuated?

The first batch of evacuee have reached safety but reports suggest the steelworks plant has been raided

Mariupol civilians who evacuated an under-seige steelworks plant in the city have reached safety.

A corridor was negotiated to allow civilians, who were based in the Azovstal steelworks, to leave the city as fighting continues to ravage the region.

The steelworks had remained one the the last Ukrainian hold-outs in Mariupol, with fighting concentrated on the site.

However, “hundreds” of people still remain in the bunker amid reports that Russia has began a violent assault on the site.

Civilians have been evacuated from Mariupol as fighting continues in the heavily contested Ukrainian city. (Credit: Getty Images)

What happened to evacuees from Mariupol?

It is believed that around 1,000 residents had taken shelter in the bunker of the Azovstal steelworks, which is one of the last pockets of the city to remain in Ukrainian hands.

The operation began on Sunday (1 May) with the Red Cross helping to facilitate the evacuation.

Those seeking evacuation were told by Mariupol City Council to meet near Port City shopping centre after the safe passage was negotiated.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also confirmed that around 100 people have now left the city via the operation.

He tweeted: “The first group of about 100 people is already heading to the controlled area.

“Tomorrow [Monday} 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.”

In a pre-recorded message on the Telegram messaging channel, President Zelensky said: “Today, for the first time in all the days of the war, this vitally needed green corridor has started working.”

However, it was reported that following the brief ceasefire on Sunday to facilitate the evacuation, the steelworks came under fire once again.

Mother and daughter Dina (R) and Natasha (L) from Mariupol react as they arrive in their own vehicle, separate from a larger convoy expected later, at a registration and processing area for internally displaced people arriving from Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia on May 2, 2022, on the 68th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. - Ukrainian authorities are planning to evacuate more civilians from Mariupol on May 2, 2022, after dozens were finally brought to safety following weeks trapped under heavy fire in the strategic port city’s Azovstal steel complex. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP)

Reports on 3 May said that Russia had bombarded the steelworks, which is still housing the civilians, with at leats two deaths reported.

Ukrainian commander Svyatoslav Palamar said: “As of this minute, a massive assault on the Azovstal plant is under way, supported by armoured vehicles and tanks, with attempts to land using boats and a large number of infantry.

“We will do all we can to repel this assault, but we are calling for immediate action to evacuate civilians.”

Where have the evacuees from Mariupol been taken?

The evacuees who have been able to escape the fighting have been taken to both Russian and Ukrainian controlled regions.

The Russian Ministry of Defence said that around 80 people were taken to the Russian-held village of Bezimenne 18 miles west of the region.

President Zelensky confirmed that others who escaped the city had been taken to nearby Zaporizhzhia, which is under Ukrainian control.

The city is around 140 miles north of Mariupol.

Will more people be evacuated from Mariupol?

The evacuation process will continue as it was reported that hundreds of civilians - including women and children - still remain in the steelworks bunker.

Denys Shlega, of the Ukrainian National Guard, has said that at least two more operations will be needed to evacuate everyone from the bunker.

He told Ukrainian television: “Several dozen small children are still in the bunkers underneath the plant.”

Olena Gibert, an evacuee who was transported safely out of the city, said: “People without cars cannot leave. They’re desperate.

“You need to go get them. People have nothing. We had nothing.”

She added that many people still left in Mariupol wish to leave the Russian-controlled area, but are fearful of openly telling Russian forces.

It is believed that around 100,000 people could remain in the city as a whole.

Prior to the evacuation operation, it was believed that alongside the 1,000 sheltering civilians, 2,000 Ukrainian fighters were also using the site as a base.

Speaking to Associated Press, Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, called for the evacuation of wounded soldiers alongside the sheltered civilians.

However, he conceded that reaching injured soldiers may not be possible, adding: “There’s rubble. We have no special equipment. It’s hard for soldiers to pick up slabs weighing tons only with their arms.”

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