Russian forces launched a major assault Tuesday on the Azovstal steel plant, the last holdout of Ukrainian forces in the devastated southern port city of Mariupol, as 101 civilians who had been trapped in the site for weeks were finally brought to safety.
“We are so thankful for everyone who helped us. There was a moment we lost hope, we thought everyone forgot about us,” evacuee Anna Zaitseva told AFP after arriving in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia, her six-month-old baby in her arms.
The United Nations and Red Cross said 101 people were evacuated from the maze of Soviet-era tunnels underneath the sprawling Azovstal plant as part of a five-day operation.
“Without a doubt, we will continue doing everything we can to get all our people out of Mariupol, out of Azovstal,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address.
“It’s hard, but we need everyone, everyone who remains there – civilian and military.”
Another 58 people joined their convoy to Zaporizhzhia from the city of Mangush, outside Mariupol, said Osnat Lubrani, the UN’s Humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine.
She warned there “may be more civilians who remain trapped” in Azovstal, saying the UN was ready to return to bring them to safety.
But Russian forces on Tuesday resumed attacks on the steel plant, where the Ukrainian fighters are making their last stand in Mariupol after almost constant bombardment since Moscow’s military offensive on February 24.
It was one of a series of assaults Tuesday across Ukraine, where authorities said 21 civilians were killed in the eastern Donetsk region.