ZAPOROZHYA, Ukraine (AP) – Pale and overwhelmed, the last civilians hiding in bunkers under a large steel plant in the destroyed Ukrainian port city of Mariupol arrived late Sunday in Zaporizhia, Ukraine’s first major Ukrainian front line.
The broken survivors spoke of constant shelling, reduced food, widespread mold – and the use of hand sanitizers to prepare fuel.
Ten buses in the dark slowly drove to the deserted streets of Zaporozhye, carrying 174 evacuees from the Mariupol area. They included more than 30 of the 51 civilians evacuated on the last day from the Azovstal metallurgical plant, where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters appear to be the last. Both Ukrainian and Russian officials said the civilians were the last non-military personnel from the industrial complex.
“It was scary in the bunkers,” said Lyubov Andropova, 69, who has been with Azovstal since March 10. – Water flowed from the ceilings. There was mold everywhere. We worried for the children, for their lungs. “
The shelling was constant, and there was a fear “that our bunker would collapse,” she said. “Everything was shaking, we didn’t go out.”
The Primorsky Metallurgical Plant is the only part of Mariupol that is not under Russian control. Thanks to its lance tunnels and bunkers deep underground, many civilians have chosen it as the safest place to hide from the incessant shelling of the formerly thriving port city, which has now largely been destroyed.
Literally a few days after the start of the war, on February 24, Dmitry Sviadakov and his wife and 12-year-old daughter hid in bunkers. They joined Azovstal on February 27. It took more than two months to leave.
The bunker of 50 to 60 people for the first month and a half, he said, was tolerable, but then the shelling intensified. A food storage area was blown up and he, along with others, resorted to garbage collection, including a search of workers ’lockers. Fuel for cooking was also lacking, but then they found that a hand sanitizer – well-supplied due to the coronavirus pandemic – was a good replacement.
“What can’t you do if you have nothing!” – he said, waiting for the bus that will take the evacuees “Azastali” to temporary accommodation in Zaporozhye.
Egor, an employee of the metallurgical plant, who sheltered in the bunker, who gave only his name, was in the bunker with his two sons, wife and their dog. He said that when the food ran out, the soldiers who defended Azovstal helped.
“Otherwise we wouldn’t have succeeded,” he said. “I don’t know how long we could survive, but we certainly wouldn’t live to this day.” In recent days, they have only pasta, water and spices – once a day was enough for soup.
His family entered the mill on March 1 for security, he said, after he barely escaped shelling while walking the dog.
Despite the widespread destruction of Mariupol, some of the 51 evacuees from Azovstal have decided to stay in the city, said United Nations officials involved in providing a safe passage for the evacuees.
Two, a man and a woman, were detained by Russian forces. A woman suspected of being a military medic was traveling with her 4-year-old daughter. The mother and child were separated, and the little girl along with the rest of the evacuees arrived in Zaporozhye, UN officials said.
But several hundred more people wishing to join the evacuation column from other areas held by Russian forces were forced to stay after Russia and Ukraine failed to reach an agreement on their evacuation.
“It was very painful to see how they expect and cannot join us,” said Osnat Lubrani, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator.
“In total, in 10 days we were able to transport a total of 600 people to very complex, very dangerous, very sensitive safe passage operations,” said Lubrani, adding that the UN hopes to be able to attract more civilians. coming out in the future.
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