'The relief is immense': Buses rescue thousands of civilians from Mariupol amid accusations against Russia of blocking evacuation - Bark Sedov

‘The relief is immense’: Buses rescue thousands of civilians from Mariupol amid accusations against Russia of blocking evacuation

More than 40 buses carrying thousands of people fleeing Mariupol arrived in the eastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia late Friday in what the Red Cross said was the largest evacuation of civilians from the besieged city since the beginning of the war.

A Ukrainian Red Cross official who was in the convoy said so The Independent 48 buses had transported a total of 3,500 people, mostly from Mariupol, who had fled the worst of the fighting to Russian-held territory, where they have been stuck ever since. Also in the convoy were five vehicles, including two vans transporting people fleeing the Russian-held town of Melitopol, northwest of Mariupol.

The buses arrived on the day attempts to open a direct humanitarian corridor to Mariupol collapsed. An estimated 170,000 people remain trapped in the destroyed city. Ukrainian officials accused Russia of breaking promises about a humanitarian corridor, blocking buses and stealing aid supplies.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said late Friday it had postponed its attempt to evacuate people directly from the strategic port location but would try again on Saturday. The ICRC had hoped to also deliver two trucks of humanitarian aid, including enough basic medical supplies for 2,000 people for three months.

However, there were emotional scenes in Zaporizhzhya’s main reception centers as war-torn families were reunited and those who had been living under the war’s heaviest bombardment said they were finally safe.

Most of the convoys had fled Mariupol on their own a few days ago, in private cars, volunteer buses, or even on foot under fire, as no official safe passages had been secured since the Russian invasion began in February.

Children disembark from a truck carrying over 50 people from occupied Melitopol that has traveled 11 hours to safety

(Bel Trew)

Some told The Independent They were stranded for days in Berdyansk, a port city 200 km south of Zaporizhzhia and Melitopal just off the Mariupol coast, which has been controlled by Russian forces since late February.

“When I crossed Ukrainian territory, the relief was immense, you can’t imagine,” said Ekaterina, 72, who fled Mariupol with her family last week after weeks of living underground under intense bombing. She said they got stuck at Berdyansk as Russian forces wouldn’t let them pass until they could join Friday’s convoy, a journey that took 10 hours.

“Mariupol, my hometown is completely destroyed, you can’t imagine the destruction,” she said through tears. “Why the zeal to pound it like that, why the hate?”

Victor, 22, a journalism student from Mariupol who was also in the evacuation convoy, compared the extent of the devastation in his city to the now-deserted city of Pripyat, which was evacuated after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

“Mariupol is the second Pripyat, but at least this city remained intact. It wasn’t Mariupol,” he said.

Maksym Shyshka, a Red Cross volunteer in the convoy, narrated The Independent They had managed to evacuate 3,500 people in 48 buses.

“It is the largest evacuation of people who fled Mariupol to date,” he said.

The Independent could not verify the number of people evacuated but counted at least 30 vehicles.

Repeated efforts to provide aid to Mariupol and to help civilians evacuate have failed.

Ambulances led the convoy to Zaporizhia

(Bel Trew)

The capture of the city would be a significant victory for the Russians, giving them an uninterrupted land bridge to annexed Crimea. It has suffered some of the heaviest bombing by Russian forces since Vladimir Putin’s invasion began on February 24.

Russia, which has described its invasion as a “special military operation” and claims it intends to “denazify” Ukraine, has repeatedly denied attacking civilians.

The latest attempt at safe passage for people in Mariupol was originally scheduled for Thursday, when Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the ICRC had confirmed Russia had agreed to the opening of a humanitarian corridor.

However, Ms Vereshchuk later said Russian soldiers blocked a convoy and seized 14 tons of food and medical supplies destined for the city.

This was announced by the ICRC, which originally hoped to lead the convoy of 45 buses The Independent On Friday morning they made their own attempt to bring aid to Mariupol, with the additional aim of ensuring safe passage for the civilians still trapped there.

That failed and they had to turn back, according to a statement.

“The ICRC team, consisting of three vehicles and nine personnel, did not reach Mariupol today, nor did it allow the safe passage of civilians. They will try again on Saturday to facilitate the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol,” the statement said.

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