(Update 1: Adds detail, re-ledes, alters headline)
Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, May 3 (EFE).- A convoy of civilians evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhya on Tuesday in buses and private vehicles accompanied by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations.
The head of the UN’s humanitarian office in Ukraine Osnat Lubrani said that 101 of the civilians, all women, children and older people, had been evacuated from the steel plant, where they had been bunkered down to avoid Russian shelling over the last two months.
Another 58 civilians were evacuated from the town of Manhush, the UN said. Some evacuees did not join the convoy to Zaporizhzhya.
“I’m relieved to confirm that the safe passage operation from Mariupol has been successful.
“The people I traveled with told me heartbreaking stories of the hell they went through,” Lubrani said in a Twitter post. “I’m thinking about the people who remain trapped. We will do all we can to assist them.”
In addition to being a last-ditch shelter for civilians, the Azovstal steel plant is the final outpost of Ukrainian forces in the devastated city of Mariupol.
The perilous operation to evacuate civilians from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhya, located some 220 kilometers (136 miles) to the west, was announced on Friday and got underway on Sunday.
The process was strewn with danger and reliant on a tenuous deal between Russia and Ukraine under the auspices of the UN.
In a statement, Peter Maurer, the president of the ICRC said: “It is an immense relief that some civilians who have suffered for weeks are now out.
“The ICRC hasn’t forgotten the people who are still there, nor those in other areas affected by the hostilities or those in dire need of humanitarian relief, wherever they are. We will not spare any effort to reach them.”
The evacuees arrived in Zaporizhzhya exhausted after two months of Russia’s relentless bombing of Mariupol, one of Moscow’s most sought-after targets in its bid to create a Russian-controlled land corridor from the Donbas in the east to the southern Crimean peninsula.
In Zaporizhzhya, city officials checked identification documents and photographed evacuees, before directing them to a refugee center where they were provided with food, tea, coffee, clean clothes and children’s toys.
Those with serious injuries are transferred to hospitals for treatment.
The Russian military on Tuesday launched an offensive against the Azovstal plant, local police and servicemen told Ukrainian media.
Mariupol patrol police chief Mykhailo Vershinin was quoted by local TV as saying Russian forces had launched attacks “day and night” and had begun an assault on the plant from several directions.
Svyatoslav Palamar, a senior commander with the Azov Battalion, a far-right unit that has been brought under the command of the Ukrainian army, told local media that Russian strikes had killed two civilians. EFE