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we explain to you the progress of the evacuation of the Azovstal factory, the last resistance area in Mariupol

They were able to leave the hell of the fighting for an uncertain future. In Mariupol, the large city in southeastern Ukraine turned into rubble, a hundred civilians were able to leave the Azovstal factory without clashes on Sunday, May 1, the last Ukrainian resistance zone in this strategic port of the Donbass almost entirely under Russian control. These evacuations are a first for Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, refugees in this huge steel factory, which has been besieged and crushed for weeks by the Russian army. As Kiev struggles to negotiate a sustainable humanitarian corridor, franceinfo takes stock.

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A first evacuation after intensive negotiations

Talks between the Ukrainian government and Vladimir Putin’s regime are beginning to bear fruit. Seen this Sunday “more than 100 civilians, including women and children, flee hostilities”announced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his daily video address on Facebook (document subtitled in English)† A redemption that comes after several failed attempts, in which the Russian forces have so far failed to reach an agreement with the UN and the Ukrainian authorities.

“There isn’t a day that we haven’t tried to find a solution for our fellow citizens”assured President Zelensky, who indicated that the citizens evacuees from the Azovstal complex were on their way to the part of the country under Ukrainian control. They were expected on Monday at Zaporijia, a large town 200 km west of Mariupol.

UN representatives and Red Cross teams, who looked after the civilians freed from the industrial complex on Sunday, are still on the scene and hope “to be able to repeat operations of this kind as quickly as possible”, a Red Cross official in Kiev told franceinfo on Monday. The NGO, like the UN, wants to remain extremely cautious and does not communicate more details about the evacuation, for fear of “endanger civilians” as well as humanitarian convoys. No new wave of evacuations has yet been announced.

About 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are holed up in the factory

The massive Azovstal steel complex, spanning 12 square kilometers, has seen hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers withdraw as the Russian army and pro-Russian separatists tighten their grip on the port city of Mariupol. Kiev and Moscow agree that approximately 2,000 fighters are still entrenched in these installations, whose network of tunnels makes it possible to organize ambushes and thus repel the adversary.

Among these soldiers are a majority of members of the Azov Battalion, this controversial military group that takes its name from the Sea of ​​Azov and has been attached to the Ukrainian Armed Forces since 2014. After trying to counter the Russian invasion, members of the 36th Marine Rifle Brigade also retreated to the site.

Russia further claims that “foreign mercenaries” would also barricade itself in the factory, and several times accused the beleaguered fighters (in English) to use the civilians present as “human shields” – which Kiev has systematically denied. The Russian military also continues to invite fighters to lay down their weapons in order to leave the site alive. A guarantee deemed insufficient by the Ukrainian soldiers, who survive by rationing water and food.

Hundreds of civilians are still seeking refuge underground

In addition to these military elements, the Azovstal industrial estate also saw an influx of residents of Mariupol fleeing repeated bombings by the Russian army in early March. Before the war, the large port city had half a million inhabitants. According to the Ukrainian authorities, there are still between 100,000 and 120,000 people there. The Ukrainian side also claims that at least It is believed that 20,000 people have died there since the beginning of the Russian siege in early March, and that 90% of the city’s houses have been destroyed by bombing – a figure that has not yet been independently verified.

How many civilians are still refugees in this steel complex? Hard to say for sure. A few days ago, Kiev stated that a thousand people were hidden in the bowels of the factory. A figure confirmed by Sergei Olov, the mayor of Mariupol, at the microphone of BFMTV Thursday. To escape the Russian strikes, civilians and soldiers live underground and can move through the miles of factory tunnels, as reported by RTBF† On site, the living conditions are described as: “really difficult” by the Ukrainians who managed to leave the complex.

War in Ukraine: Civilians entrenched in the Azovstal factory have the hell of Mariupol.  leave
France 2

Despite the evacuation organized on Sunday, there is uncertainty about the fate of the Ukrainians hiding in the factory. The hypothesis of a withdrawal of the Russian army seems to be increasingly under threat. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Sunday that Russian soldiers… “not adjust[aie]nt artificially their actions” from May 9thday of the surrender of the Nazis to the Allies in 1945 – usually celebrated with much fanfare by the Kremlin. Above all, full control of Mariupol would allow Russia to have all the major ports in the Sea of ​​Azov, located between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which it had annexed in 2014.