“There are about 1000 civilians and 500 wounded military. They all need to be pulled out of Azovstal today,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereschuk said in a Facebook post referring to Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant.
Mariupol civilians and fighters alike have hunkered down in the deep tunnels under the plant for weeks amid Russia’s continued bombardment of the city.Ukrainian officials have attempted several evacuation efforts as roughly 120,000 thousand Ukrainians have remained trapped in the war-torn port city for weeks.
Russia claimed earlier this week that it would allow those bunkered in the tunnels to voluntarily lay down their arms and evacuate, but Vereschuk warned Tuesday that no such agreement had been fully reached and four people attempting to flee the city were killed.
Ukrainian officials on Wednesday then worked to send 90 buses to Mariupol to evacuate as many as 6,000 residents at designated evacuation points.
But Vereschuk said the attempts were once again foiled by Russian forces.
“Due to the lack of control over their own military at the place, the occupiers were unable to ensure a proper ceasefire,” she wrote on Facebook, later noting only four buses were able to evacuate Mariupol residents.
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory over Mariupol Thursday despite the fact that thousands of resistance fighters remain in the city, and they have been unable to secure the Azovstal steel plant.
“One does not have to climb into these catacombs and crawl there underground around these industrial objects,” Putin said. “Block this industrial zone in such a way that even a fly could not fly through.”
Putin claimed that those still resisting in Mariupol would be “guarantee[d] life and dignified treatment,” but Vereschuk pleaded with world leaders to immediately step in and assist.
“I urge world leaders and the international community to focus now their efforts exactly on Azovstal,” she said. “This is a key point and a key moment for humanitarian efforts.”