Civilians evacuated in buses from besieged Mariupol steelworks – Metro US

Civilians evacuated in buses from besieged Mariupol steelworks

Evacuees from Azovstal steel plant arrive at a temporary accommodation
Evacuees from Azovstal steel plant arrive at a temporary accommodation centre in Bezimenne

(Reuters) -Twenty-five civilians including children were brought out by bus on Friday from the besieged Azovstal steel complex in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol to a camp in the Russian-controlled town of Bezimenne, with a further 23 reported to be on the way.

Reuters journalists saw two coaches arrive and evacuees being accompanied to the reception centre by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, which have been helping to organise the evacuations.

The tented reception camp in Bezimenne was flying the black-blue-red flag of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, whose independence is recognised only by Russia.

Officials at the centre said they expected several buses to arrive from the bombed-out steelworks, the last bastion of Ukrainian forces in the city, on Friday.

The Russian state-run TASS news agency said a third bus, carrying 23 more civilians, had left the plant.

Ukrainian officials had accused Russia on Friday of violating a ceasefire aimed at evacuating the scores of civilians still trapped underground in the vast industrial plant, after efforts to rescue them the previous day were thwarted by fighting.

Azovstal’s remaining uninjured defenders have rejected President Vladimir Putin’s suggestion that they surrender, saying they will not leave unless they are evacuated with their weapons.

After a previous set of evacuations of civilians from Azovstal at the beginning of the week, around 100 evacuees were vetted in Bezimenne for a day before being allowed to travel on.

Most were taken to Zaporizhzhia, a city under Ukrainian control, while a few opted to travel on to Russian-held territory.

Mariupol, which has strategic importance for Russia as a large port and also because it sits on a key east-west highway leading from Russia to the annexed Crimean peninsula, has been under attack since shortly after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The city on the Azov Sea now lies in ruins, under Russian occupation except for the Azovstal complex, with its underground bomb shelters.

The mayor, who has left, has said only around 100,000 of the pre-war population of more than 400,000 now remain.

(Reporting by ReutersEditing by Kevin Liffey, Raissa Kasolowsky, Toby Chopra and Frances Kerry)