Ukrainian President Volodymyr said on Thursday his country was ready for talks with Russia on the evacuation of people blockaded at the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged port city of Mariupol, after his meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Kyiv.
“It's very important that Mr. Guterres raised the issue of evacuation of our people from Mariupol, in particular, from the Azovstal plant. We see that despite the Russian president's words about the alleged end of the combat actions in Mariupol, the Azovstal territory is being bombed barbarously by the Russian army. These bombardments took place even during the meeting of the secretary-general in Moscow,” Zelenskyy said at a joint news conference with Guterres.
He added: “Ukraine is ready for immediate negotiations on the evacuation of people from Azovstal, as well as to ensure the implementation of any agreements reached. We also hope that there will be a humane attitude towards these people on the part of Russia. We expect that this part of the secretary-general's mission will be effective. We are ready to support these efforts.”
Guterres was in Moscow a few days ago where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the de-escalations of tensions and the cessation of hostilities in the war on Ukraine.
Guterres said on Thursday: “During my visit to Moscow, President Putin agreed in principle to the involvement of the United Nations and International Committee for the Red Cross in the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. Today President Zelenskyy and I have the opportunity to address this issue. And as we speak, there are intense discussions to move forward on this proposal to make it a reality.”
Last week, Putin claimed a Russian victory in Mariupol and called off an operation to storm the Azovstal steel plant, ordering it be blockaded instead.
Mariupol has been under relentless bombardment for weeks. It is a strategic target for the Russians that would allow Moscow to establish control over territory linking the Donbas in south-eastern Ukraine to annexed Crimea.