A group of 40 civilians was evacuated on Sunday from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel works in a convoy with vehicles bearing United Nations symbols, signalling a deal had been struck to ease the ordeal of the most destructive siege in the Ukraine conflict.
In one of the first major signs of an evacuation deal, a group of around 40 civilians arrived on Sunday at a temporary accommodation centre after leaving the area around the Azovstal plant, a Reuters photographer said.
Reuters photographs showed the civilians arriving in the village of Bezimenne in the Donetsk Region, around 30 km east of Mariupol, with Ukrainian number plates in a convoy with Russian forces and vehicles with United Nations symbols.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said after meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Thursday that intense discussions were under way to enable the evacuation of Azovstal.
A spokesman for the United Nations declined comment. An aide to the mayor of Mariupol declared a period of silence, pending official statements about the evacuations.
The siege of Mariupol, in which Russian forces battled Ukrainian fighters, has turned the port city into a wasteland with an unknown death toll and thousands trying to survive without water, sanitation or food.
The war-torn city is under Russian control but some fighters and civilians remain holed up in the Azovstal works – a vast Soviet-era plant founded under Josef Stalin and designed with a labyrinth of bunkers and tunnels to withstand a major attack.
Two groups of civilians left the residential area around the Azovstal works on Saturday, the Russian defence ministry said on Sunday.
A video released by Russia’s defence ministry on Sunday showed vehicles bearing United Nations and Red Cross symbols.