“A safe passage operation…is underway today,” said Saviano Abreu, of OCHA Ukraine, adding that the efforts are “coordinated” by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, “in coordination with the parties to the conflict.”
According to dispatches, more than 100 civilians were allowed to leave during the first phase of the operation.
Mr Abreu said it had been agreed by the Russian and Ukrainian authorities that the civilians who had been in the heavily damaged steelworks for almost two months, “women, children and the elderly”, would be evacuated to Zaporizka, which is under Ukrainian control. north of Mariupol.
Support for survivors
The, “they will receive immediate humanitarian support, including psychological services“, he said. The World Health Organization (WHO) in Ukraine, tweeted that they and other partner agencies were “ready to receive evacuees”, and that they hoped that “further evacuations would follow”.
General secretary António Guterres traveled to Moscow and met President Vladimir Putin early last week, securing an agreement from the Russian Prime Minister “in principle” to allow this weekend’s rescue operation, after weeks of failed attempts to provide a safe humanitarian corridor for a mass evacuation.
After meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the capital kyiv on Thursday, the urgent imperative to end what Mr Guterres called the “crisis within the crisis” of finally allowing civilians to leave the shattered coastal city after weeks of Russian bombardment, was discussed. “intense discussions” between the two parties.
Civil security, paramount
Abreu said in the statement to correspondents issued on Sunday that the operation began with a UN Red Cross convoy leaving for Mariupol on Friday from Zaporizka, a journey of about 230 kilometers.
“As operations are still ongoing, we will not provide further details at this stage.he said, “to ensure the safety of civilians and humanitarians in the convoy.”
He concluded by saying that the UN ” continue to press for safe passage out of Mariupol town for any civilians wishing to leave. The United Nations is actively engaging with the parties to advance these efforts.”
If the evacuees can get to safety, it would be the first time that a convoy organized by aid agencies has managed to secure the passage of civilians, who have been living under heavy Russian gunfire and aerial bombardment, since the early days of the Russian invasion. .
The death toll in Mariupol is unknown, but the city’s mayor reported that more than 20,000 civilians were killed.
The last Ukrainian soldiers left to defend the city have been entrenched inside the sprawling Soviet-era steelworks – with hundreds of civilians, it seems – which features a series of labyrinthine bunkers and tunnels, which prevented Russian forces from securing the last pockets of resistance.