More than 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers, including hundreds of wounded, still remain at the Azovstal steelworks complex, surrounded by Russian troops in Mariupol, the Ukrainian deputy prime minister told France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday.
After the evacuation of all civilians with the help of the UN last week, “more than a thousand” soldiers, including “hundreds of wounded”, remain in the underground galleries of this vast industrial complex, Iryna Vereshchuk told AFP by telephone.
“There are serious injuries that require an urgent withdrawal,” said the Ukrainian deputy prime minister.
Iryna Vereshchuk also denied the information that there were still civilians in the steel plant, passed on by two regional authorities.
“This is not true,” said the deputy prime minister, noting that the leader of the Azov regiment “officially stated” to Ukrainian government officials and a UN representative “that no civilians, women, children or elderly people remained in Azovstal”.
Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko declined to say whether he was “100% certain” that all Azovstal civilians had been evacuated, stressing that “it is not possible” to verify this until there is a lasting ceasefire.
An adviser to the mayor of the municipality, Petro Andryushchenko, quoted this Tuesday by the local press, said that at least 100 civilians still remain sheltered in the facilities of the steelworks complex of Azovstal.
Ukrainian authorities are now “working” on the possibility of evacuating wounded military personnel, medical personnel and military chaplains from the steel mill, while awaiting help from international organizations and Turkey, according to Vereshchuk.
“Medical personnel want to evacuate the wounded, because they must be accompanied” in the event of the opening of a “humanitarian corridor” at the steel mill, he added.
According to the Ukrainian official, such an operation could “last at least a week”, given the number of wounded who must be “transported on stretchers”.
Azovstal’s military has repeatedly asked for help from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Vereshchuk stressed that “Turkey is working very closely” with Kiev.
“[As autoridades turcas] really want to help,” he said, adding that such a withdrawal could be done by sea with a Turkish boat equipped with a military hospital.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and the military offensive has already killed more than 3,000 civilians, according to the UN, which warns that the real number is likely to be much higher.
The military offensive caused the flight of more than 13 million people, of which more than 5.6 million left the country, according to the latest UN data.
The Russian invasion was condemned by the international community in general, which responded by sending weapons to Ukraine and reinforcing economic and political sanctions on Moscow.
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