Russian troops started shelling and bombing the Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s southern port city of Mariupol after Ukrainian soldiers used a ceasefire to take move into firing positions there, the RIA news agency quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying on Tuesday.
“A ceasefire was declared, civilians had to be evacuated from Azovstal territory. Azov and Ukrainian servicemen, who are stationed on the plant, took advantage of it. They came out of the basement, they took up firing positions on the territory and in the factory buildings,” RIA cited ministry as saying.
“Now units of the Russian army and the Donetsk People’s Republic, using artillery and aviation, are beginning to destroy these firing positions,” the ministry said.
Ukraine hoped a first column of evacuees from the ruins of a vast steel works would reach the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday.
More than 200 civilians remain in the Azovstal steel plant where the city’s last defenders are holed up, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said. A total of about 100,000 civilians were still in the port city on the Sea of Azov, he said.
“The column (of evacuees) is moving towards Zaporizhzhia. The evacuation continues,” Boichenko said on national television. “We are limiting information and hope that the evacuees from Azovstal will reach Ukraine.”
Civilians evacuated from besieged Mariupol steel plant
The United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross began an operation coordinated with Ukraine and Russia on April 29 to bring out women, children and the elderly from the steel works.
The sprawling Azovstal industrial complex became a refuge for both civilians and Ukrainian fighters as Moscow laid siege to Mariupol, devastating the city in weeks of bombardment.
Inside Mariupol, Tatyana Bushlanova, 64, a distraught resident, wiped away tears on a bench outside a charred apartment block on Monday, not even flinching slightly at the blasts of shelling.
In an apartment block stairwell nearby, a man sat before an open fire, cooking some food.
“You wake up in the morning and you cry. You cry in the evening. I don’t know where to go at all… everything is destroyed, everything is broken. Where should people go now? Here, they are sitting there with small kids with little ones,” Bushlanova said.
“It does not stop. I don’t know how to stay here during the winter. We don’t have a roof, don’t have windows. Everything is very complicated,” she said.
Russian forces on Monday pounded the steel works with shelling.
A Reuters witness saw them using a “Grad” multiple rocket launcher. Thick black smoke rose from the steel works.
The relatives of some of the Ukrainian fighters were expected to rally in central Kyiv later on Tuesday to demand the evacuation of their loved ones.
© 2022 Reuters