Conflicts & War

Zaporizhzhya volunteers await Azovstal evacuees from Mariupol

By Lourdes Velasco

Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, May 2 (EFE).- Municipal technicians, doctors and various humanitarian organizations in the city of Zaporizhzhya, which lies about 220 kilometers (136 miles) from the besieged port city of Mariupol, are awaiting the arrival of the first convoy of civilians who have been trapped for two months in the Azovstal steel works.

Since the beginning of the war, hundreds of people have been arriving each day to the Zaporizhzhya refugee reception center, which has been set up in the parking lot of a shopping center with a feeding tent and a first aid hospital.

“We don’t know in what condition those from the steel plant will come. They usually arrive exhausted. Many have lost family members, their homes, their jobs. They have seen missiles falling and are suffering from acute mental crises,” Lina Villa, head of the MSF psychological care teams, tells Efe.

Some 50,000 people have been processed through these facilities, according to Vitaly, 25, a Zaporizhzhya City Council worker who is in charge of checking the refugees’ documentation and registering their arrival.

In the early days of the war, some 2,000 people passed through this point every day, but that number has since fallen.

Once the refugees arrive, they are free to go to the tents for food or medical care if they need it.

“They decide if they want to stay here in our hostels, schools or hotels, or if they decide to continue their journey to the west and from there to other European countries,” Vitaly explains.

If they choose to flee the country, they are transported by bus to the city center and from there they go by train. “Ninety percent go to the west,” the city worker says.

A team from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) mans the humanitarian care tent. Today the crew is awaiting evacuees from Azovstal but they also provide care for those arriving from other areas.

In addition to emergency care, these teams visit evacuees who choose to stay in Zaporizhzhya. A nurse, a doctor and a psychologist go together to follow up to check on them.

On Monday morning, while dozens of journalists were waiting for the evacuees from the Mariupol steel plant to arrive at the facility, two buses arrived from Oryhiv, a town 58 kilometers from Zaporizhzhya.

Yulia, 22, and her 22-month-old son Dima have also arrived in Zaporizhzhya in their own car.

They left Vasylivka after hiding the basement of their building with neighbors since the outbreak of the war.

“Now the situation in the city is calm and that’s why we managed to get out. I don’t know what we are going to do or where we are going to go,” she told reporters as her son played with a pair of sunglasses inside the car.

Inside the tent, Sergei and his wife, who also managed to flee Mariupol, preferred not to talk to the press because they were in a hurry: they were heading to the city center to wait for a train to take them to the west.

The evacuation of the inhabitants of Mariupol and the Azovstal steelworks, where hundreds of civilians remain surrounded and trapped, continued on Monday, under the auspices of the UN and the Red Cross.

According to the city council, two additional sites have been agreed upon for people to be moved in the evacuation column leaving Mariupol.

“It was agreed between the two sides of the conflict that the civilians who have been stranded for almost two months in Azovstal (women, men and elderly) will be evacuated to Zaporizhzhya where they will immediately receive humanitarian support, including psychological care,” said the spokesperson in Ukraine of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Saviano Abreu. EFE


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