MARIUPOL, UKRAINE (REUTERS) – Twenty-five civilians, including children, were brought out by bus on Friday (May 6) from the Azovstal complex in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which is besieged by Russian forces, to a camp in the Russian-controlled town of Bezimenne.
Reuters journalists saw the coaches arrive and evacuees being accompanied to the reception centre by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, which have been helping to organise the evacuations.
Officials at the centre said they expected several buses to arrive from the bombed-out steelworks, the last bastion of Ukrainian forces in the city, on Friday.
Ukrainian officials had accused Russia of violating a ceasefire on Friday aimed at evacuating scores of civilians still trapped underground in the vast industrial plant, after fighting thwarted efforts to rescue them the previous day.
The reception camp in Bezimenne was flying the black-blue-red flag of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, whose independence is recognised only by Russia.
After a previous set of evacuations from Azovstal at the beginning of the week, around 100 evacuees were kept in Bezimenne for a day before being allowed to travel on.
Most were taken to Zaporizhzhia, a city under Ukrainian control, while a few opted to travel on to Russian-held territory.
Mariupol, which has strategic importance for Russia not only as a large port but also because it sits on a key east-west highway leading from Russia to the annexed Crimean peninsula, has been under attack since shortly after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb 24.
The port city on the Azov Sea now lies in ruins, under Russian occupation but for the vast Azovstal industrial complex, with its underground bomb shelters.
The mayor, who has left, has said only around 100,000 of the pre-war population of more than 400,000 now remain.