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Women, children and the elderly evacuated from Mariupol steel mill

The Azovstal mill in Mariupol (AP)
The Azovstal mill in Mariupol (AP)

All women, children and older adults have been evacuated from a Mariupol steel mill long besieged by Russian forces, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said.

“The president’s order has been carried out, all women, children and the elderly have been evacuated from Azovstal,” Iryna Veheshchuk said.

“This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation has been completed.”

She did not elaborate.

Russia Ukraine War Steel Plant Survivors
Serhii Tsybulchenko, left, and his son-in-law Ihor Trotsak, right, fled with their family from the Azovstal steel plant (Francisco Seco/AP)

The Russian news agency Tass had reported another 50 evacuated from the plant on Saturday.

The latest evacuees followed roughly 500 others who were allowed to leave the plant and other parts of the city in recent days.

Evacuating civilians from the plant them has drawn the world’s attention, with the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross trying to organise departures.

In recent days, fighters inside the plant had described bringing out small groups of civilians who had been hiding for weeks.

The fighters issued a statement via social media saying both they and the Russians have used a white flag system to halt fighting in order to get civilians out.

Russia Ukraine War Steel Plant Survivors
Women hold signs as people who fled the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol arrive at a reception centre in Zaporizhzhia (Francisco Seco/AP)

But Russian forces have intensified fire on the steel mill in recent days with mortars, artillery, truck-mounted rocket systems, aerial bombardment and shelling from the sea, making evacuation operations difficult.

It remains unclear what will happen to the Ukrainian fighters there, both those still in combat and the hundreds believed to be wounded.

In recent days the Ukrainian government has been approaching a variety of international organisations to try to guarantee them safe passage.

The escape of the civilians puts new pressure on Ukraine to find a way out for the fighters, who have vowed not to surrender.

Already Russian forces had probed the plant and even reached into its warren of tunnels, according to Ukrainian officials.

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