UN mobilising team to evacuate civilians from besieged Mariupol steel plant

Injured Ukrainians attempt to recover in cramped conditions in Azovstal's basement. Credit: Mykhailo Vershynin

The UN has said its humanitarian office is mobilising an experienced team from around the world to coordinate the evacuation of civilians from a besieged steel plant in Mariupol.

UN secretary-general António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in principle to UN and Red Cross participation in the evacuation from the plant during a nearly two-hour, one-on-one meeting on Tuesday.

The sprawling Azovstal complex, which has been almost completely destroyed by Russian attacks, is the last pocket of organised Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. An estimated 2,000 troops and 1,000 civilians are said to be holed up in bunkers underneath the wrecked structure.

UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters on Wednesday that the UN is trying to translate the Guterres-Putin agreement in principle “into an agreement in detail and an agreement on the ground”.

“And ultimately what we want is to make sure that a ceasefire would be respected that would allow us to move people safely,” he said.

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Mr Haq said UN officials are having follow-on discussions with authorities in Moscow and Kyiv “to develop the operational framework for the timely evacuation of civilians”.

His comments come after a Ukrainian military spokesperson told ITV News medics at a makeshift hospital in the basement of a Ukrainian steel plant are performing surgery in "medieval" conditions.

Valeria Karpylenko, a representative of the Azov regiment, said those requiring surgeries have been operated on by sleep-deprived, over-worked medics.

"The working conditions for doctors are horrible, as attacks of Russian aviation and artillery are constant," Valeria Karpylenko said.