The Ukrainian authorities evacuated more than 100 women, children and the elderly from the Azovstal steelworks in the first two days of an evacuation operation, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Telegram on May 1.
She said the Mariupol humanitarian operation continues, and hundreds of civilians still remain besieged in Azovstal together with the Ukrainian soldiers defending Mariupol. According to the minister, the situation appears to be turning into a real humanitarian catastrophe, with the trapped civilians running out of water, food and medicine.
Vereshchuk added that repeated attempts to evacuate civilians in recent weeks had failed, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had taken personal charge of the situation.
The minister noted that on April 27 the President of Ukraine met with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. The outcome of the meeting was an agreement on a joint humanitarian operation by Ukraine together with the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"Whatever the military situation around Mariupol, we will fight for each of our soldiers and civilians who remain in the city,” Vereshchuk said. “The Mariupol humanitarian operation will continue until we achieve our goals — saving the lives of our citizens."
In the evening of May 1, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal plant, which was under constant fire from the Russian occupiers, had begun. The first group of about 100 people were reported to be heading to the government-controlled area. On May 2, they will be received in the city of Zaporizhzhia. The evacuation was supported by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Mariupol has been blockaded by Russian invaders for two months. Russians have systematically targeted the city’s infrastructure. Water, power, heat, and communications have all been destroyed and cut off. Preliminary estimates put the number of civilian dead in Mariupol at 22,000.
Additionally, the Russians have been operating at least 13 mobile crematoriums in the city, and have forbidden residents from burying the dead. Local and authorities and journalists in the area have both reportedly discovered at least three mass graves.
At least 1,000 civilians are believed to have been hiding in underground shelters underneath the Azovstal steelworks plant, which has been constantly bombarded by Russian attacks. In total, according to estimates by the Ukrainian authorities, around 120,000 civilians may be left in Mariupol.