Kyiv said Tuesday that more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops, many of them injured, remained in the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in the Russian-controlled port city of Mariupol.
“More than a thousand” Ukrainian soldiers remain in the plant, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, told AFP.
“Hundreds are injured. There are people with serious injuries who require urgent evacuation. The situation is deteriorating every day.”
The Azovstal steelworks is the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the devastated southern port city and its fate has taken on a symbolic value in the broader battle since Russia’s invasion.
At the weekend, Vereshchuk said all women, children, and elderly people had been evacuated from Azovstal as part of a humanitarian mission coordinated by the United Nations and the Red Cross.
In comments to AFP on Tuesday, she rebuffed claims from two local officials that around 100 civilians remained in the network of Soviet-era tunnels beneath the plant.
She said Ukraine was calling on all international organizations to put pressure on Russia to allow the evacuation of the seriously wounded, military medical personnel, and other “non-combatants, according to the Geneva Convention.”
Vereshchuk also said she had received assurances that “Turkey is ready” to help facilitate evacuations by sea from Azovstal, which she said could take around one week, given the number of people remaining in the plant.
“There must be agreements and guarantees that Russia does not start shooting,” she said.
“We need iron-clad guarantees in writing. That’s what we’re working to get now.”
Writing on social media on Sunday, presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said Kyiv “won’t stop until we evacuate all our people” from Azovstal.
Each conversation of the President with world leaders begins with the "Azovstal". We consider all formats, and if the history of international law doesn’t know them – offer new ones. We managed to save women and children, but we won’t stop until we evacuate all our people. 2/3
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) May 8, 2022
A giant black and orange ribbon — a Russian military symbol — was carried through Mariupol on Monday during Moscow’s celebrations to mark the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.