Updated May 5, 2022 - World

Ukraine races to evacuate Mariupol steel plant's remaining civilians

Satellite imagery shows damage at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 4.
Satellite imagery shows damage at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday. Photo: Planet Labs PBC

Russian forces were pausing their assault on Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant on Thursday morning "to open a humanitarian corridor" as part of a three-day daytime ceasefire pledge, Russia's Defense Ministry announced.

The big picture: The United Nations said more than 300 civilians were evacuated on Wednesday from the Mariupol area to the city of Zaporizhzhia, also in southeastern Ukraine, as Ukrainian officials and their forces defending the port city plant reported intense, bloody battles at the facility.

Details: Russia's Defense Ministry said in an online statement that the three-day humanitarian corridor from the plant would be open from 8am to 6pm local time, as Ukrainian forces defending their last holdout in the port city said they will "fight to the end," AFP notes.

What he's saying: Ukrainian President President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address posted to the presidential website on Thursday that the "second stage of our evacuation operation from Mariupol was completed," with 344 civilians reaching Zaporizhzhia a day earlier.

  • "We are negotiating and hope to continue rescuing people from Azovstal, from Mariupol. There are still civilians. Women, children," Zelensky said.
  • "To save them, we need to continue the silence," he continued. "The Ukrainian side is ready to provide it.
"It takes time to just lift people out of those basements, out of those underground shelters. In the current conditions, we cannot use special equipment to clear the debris. Everything is done manually. But we believe that everything will work out."
— President Zelensky

Of note: Zelensky on Wednesday asked UN Secretary General António Guterres in a phone call for more help evacuating the remaining civilians: "The lives of the people who remain there are in danger."

The big picture: Previous humanitarian corridor and evacuation negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have failed several times, though dozens of civilians were evacuated from the plant last weekend.

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross said it's "deeply alarmed" by the situation civilians in Mariupol face. Pascal Hundt, the ICRC's head of delegation in Ukraine, said a statement Wednesday he's "relieved that more lives have been spared" with the latest evacuation.
  • "We welcome the renewed efforts of the parties with regards to safe passage operations," Hundt added. "They remain crucial and urgent in light of the immense suffering of the civilians."

Go deeper: First Mariupol steel plant evacuees reach Ukrainian-held city

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Hundt and further context.

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