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Ukraine: UN and partners evacuate civilians from Azovstal steel plant, Mariupol

03 May 2022

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The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross team that supported the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Credit: OCHA/Saviano Abreu

Statement attributable to the Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani

Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine: I am pleased and relieved to confirm that 101 civilians have successfully been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and other areas in a safe passage operation coordinated by the United Nations (UN) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The operation started on Friday 29 April and was agreed with the parties to the conflict, following engagements by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres during his recent visits to Moscow and Kyiv.

Thanks to the operation, 101 women, men, children, and older persons could finally leave the bunkers below the Azovstal steelworks and see the daylight after two months. Another 58 people joined us in Manhush, a town on the outskirts of Mariupol. We have accompanied 127 people today to Zaporizhzhia, about 230 kilometres north-west of Mariupol, where they are receiving initial humanitarian assistance, including health and psychological care, from UN agencies, ICRC and our humanitarian partners. Some evacuees decided not to proceed towards Zaporizhzhia with the convoy.

People were evacuated from Azovstal steel plant in a five-day operation. OCHA/Kateryna Klochko

Over the past days, travelling with the evacuees, I have heard mothers, children and frail grandparents speak about the trauma of living day after day under unrelenting heavy shelling and the fear of death, and with extreme lack of water, food, and sanitation. They spoke of the hell they have experienced since this war started, seeking refuge in the Azovstal plant, many being separated from family members whose fate they still don’t know.

Seeing a 6-month-old boy playing with a straw of grass, his delighted mother told me this is the first time in his life he has been able to do that. I saw the tears of joy as family members trapped in different parts of the plant for two months were reunited. Lyudmyla, an elderly woman, spoke of her longing to return to Mariupol where she has lived all her life, but she knew all too well that Mariupol, once a beautiful, vibrant city, is now decimated to rubble, and her family and friends are lost or dispersed. These stories from Mariupol and so many other places in Ukraine are a testament to the cruelty of this unjust war.

The evacuated people received meals in Zaporizhzhia. OCHA/Kateryna Klochko

Today, we brought people safely to Zaporizhzhia. However, I worry that there may be more civilians who remain trapped. We stand ready to work with ICRC to return to Azovstal to evacuate them, and to do the same in all other areas experiencing intense and escalating fighting across Ukraine. The UN will continue to engage with the parties to the conflict for this purpose.

We are also committed to engage with the parties to return to Mariupol and bring urgent humanitarian support to people living in destroyed building with no access to water or electricity. We know it can be done, and it must be done.