Civilians from Mariupol flee Azovstal bunkers in U.N.-led evacuation
Civilians were evacuated on Sunday (May 1) from the bunkers of Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks after the United Nations and the International Red Cross led a deal to ease the ordeal of the most destructive siege of the war in Ukraine.
Russian forces pummeled the port city for nearly two months, turning Mariupol into a wasteland with an unknown death toll and thousands trying to survive without water, sanitation or food.
The city is under Russian control but some fighters and civilians have sheltered underground in the Azovstal works - a vast Soviet-era plant founded under Josef Stalin and designed with a labyrinth of bunkers and tunnels to withstand attack.
A Reuters photographer saw dozens of civilians arriving on Sunday at a temporary accommodation centre. The United Nations later said that an operation to evacuate people from the steelworks had been underway since Friday (April 27).
The "U.N. confirms that a safe passage operation is ongoing in Azovstal steel plant, in coordination with the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and the parties to the conflict," U.N. spokesperson Saviano Abreu said.
The convoy had travelled 230 kilometres (143 miles) to reach the steelworks, the ICRC said.
The Reuters photographer saw civilians arriving in the village of Bezimenne in an area of Donetsk under the control of Russia-backed separatists around 30 km (20 miles) east of Mariupol.
They were receiving refreshments and care after weeks of suffering.
Young children were among those evacuated from the plant - where people cowered underground, huddling together under blankets in the plant's bunkers and tunnels as the shelling tore their city apart.
The first group of 100 evacuees will arrive in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Monday (May 2) President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted.