Evacuation efforts stall after first civilians leave besieged Mariupol steel plant

While civilians are managing to escape the horrors of the besieged steel works, many more remain trapped - as ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports

The first wave of civilians trapped for weeks in a Mariupol steel plant reached a Ukrainian-controlled city on Monday, though evacuation efforts soon ran into delays.

As many as 100,000 people may still be in Mariupol, including an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters beneath the Azovstal steel plant – the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.

Video posted on Sunday by Ukrainian forces showed elderly women and mothers with small children climbing over debris out of the Soviet-era facility and eventually boarding a bus.

Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov told the BBC that some evacuees were making slow progress and would likely not arrive in Zaporizhzhia, around 140 miles northwest of Mariupol, on Monday as was hoped for.

What hope for those people still in Mariupol? Rebecca Barry reports

But despite some civilians escaping, hundreds of people reportedly remain trapped in the Azovstal steel works, which officials say are providing cover for dozens of small children sheltering in bunkers below the industrial facilities.

The city council had earlier said that a convoy of civilians from the wider city of Mariupol was held up as the buses had not reached the agreed pickup point.

It was not immediately clear what the reason for the delay was.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Greek state television that remaining civilians in the steel plant were afraid to board buses because they feared they would be taken to Russia.

He said, however, that he had been assured by the UN that they would be allowed to go to areas his government controls.

At least some of the people evacuated from the plant on Sunday were apparently taken to a village controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

The Russian military said that some chose to stay in separatist areas, while dozens left for Ukrainian-held territory. This information could not be independently verified.

The evacuation efforts came as a Ukrainian military officer claimed late on Sunday that Russian forces resumed shelling Azovstal.

National Guard brigade commander Denys Shlega said in a televised interview the shelling began as soon as rescue crews stopped evacuating civilians at the steel mill. The claim has not been independently verified.

The commander estimated several hundred civilians remain trapped at the site alongside nearly 500 wounded soldiers and numerous dead bodies. 

Andrii Fedorov hugs his son Makar as they reunited at a reception centre for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia. Credit: AP

Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov, is a key target because of its strategic location near the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Russian forces have pounded much of the city to rubble, trapping civilians with little food, water, heat or medicine.

On other fronts, a rocket strike has hit the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, causing deaths and injuries, the local governor said.

A Red Cross official waves a white flag while approaching the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. Credit: International Committee of the Red Cross via AP

Maksym Marchenko, the governor of the Odesa region in south-western Ukraine, wrote on the messaging app Telegram that the strike killed and wounded people but didn’t specify how many. He added that an infrastructure site was hit in the Black Sea port, without identifying what it was.

Mr Zelenskyy’s office said at least three people were killed in the Donbas in the previous 24 hours, while the regional administration in Zaporizhzhia reported that at least two people died in Russian shelling.

Elsewhere, towns in eastern Ukraine have also been the target of Russian assaults, according to a regional governor.

A main bridge across the Dniester estuary- west of the port city of Odesa in southwest Ukraine- was hit by a Russian rocket strike, authorities said.

The bridge- which is the key highway link to areas west of Odesa- already had been heavily damaged in two previous Russian missile strikes.

Its destruction would cut access to shipments of weapons and other cargo from neighbouring Romania.

The attack came as a senior American official said the US believed Russia is planning this month to annex large portions of eastern Ukraine and recognize the southern city of Kherson as an independent republic. Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said on Monday that the suspected actions are “straight out of the Kremlin’s playbook” and will not be recognised by the White House or its partners and allies.

Amid escalating Russian military threats, the UN human rights office said on Monday that 3,153 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the invasion on February 24, with the real number likely to be much higher.

As attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure continued, EU energy ministers met on Monday to discuss new measures against the Kremlin, which could include restrictions on Russian oil.

“We will call for immediate sanctions on Russian oil and gas. This is the next, and urgent, and absolute step,” Polish Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskwa said.

But Russia-dependent members of the 27-nation bloc, including Hungary and Slovakia, are wary of taking tough action, frustrating the likelihood of a consensus being reached.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz - who is under mounting pressure to supply Ukraine with heavy weaponry - said sanctions imposed on Russia will not be eased until Moscow reaches a peace agreement with Kyiv.

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