“More than a thousand” Ukrainian soldiers, including “hundreds of wounded”, remain at the Azovstal steelworks, besieged by Russian troops in the city of Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian deputy prime minister told AFP on Tuesday. Iryna Vereshchuk.
After the evacuation of all civilians last week with the help of the UN, “more than a thousand” soldiers, including “hundreds of wounded” remain entrenched in the underground galleries of this huge industrial complex, Vereshchuk said in a telephone interview.
“There are seriously injured people who need an urgent evacuation,” added the official, explaining that the situation “deteriorates every day” in the steelworks, the last stronghold of resistance of the Ukrainian forces against the Russian army in Mariupol, a city devastated by the bombings, located on the shores of the Sea of Azov.
The Ukrainian official denied the information given by regional officials, who stated that there were still civilians in the factory.
“It’s not true,” he settled. The head of the Azov battalion, a unit defending the steelworks, “officially declared” to government officials and a UN representative that “there is no civilian, no woman, child or elderly person in Azovstal,” he added.
At this moment, the Ukrainian authorities are “working” on finding a way to evacuate the wounded, medical personnel and military chaplains, and are waiting for the help of international organizations and Turkey for this.
“Medical personnel want to go out with the wounded, because they have to be accompanied” if a “humanitarian corridor” opens up in the steel mill, he said.
According to calculations by the Ukrainian authorities, such an operation “will take at least a week” given the number of wounded who have to be carried on stretchers, Vereshchuk said.
The Ukrainian official confirmed that Turkey “worked closely” with them in this operation and did not rule out that the evacuation could be done by sea, thanks to a ship chartered by Ankara and equipped with medical infrastructure.
Ukraine wants above all to ensure that Russia “does not start shooting” during the evacuation, according to Vereshchuk.
“Written guarantees are needed and that is what we are trying to obtain,” he added.