A group of 20 civilians are leaving the Azovstal steelworks, where the last Ukrainian troops are holed up in the Black Sea port of Mariupol, the soldiers there said Saturday.
“Twenty civilians, women and children... have been transferred to a suitable place and we hope that they will be evacuated to Zaporizhzhia, on territory controlled by Ukraine,” said Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment.
Earlier Saturday, a correspondent from Russia’s TASS news agency reported from the city that 25 civilians - including six children younger than 14 - had quit the site.
For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.
“All night, the enemy artillery bombarded the site,” Palamar added.
“The ceasefire that should have started at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) didn’t start until 11:00 am. Since then, the two sides have respected it,” he added.
“The evacuation convoy we had been expecting at 6:00 am only arrived at 6:25 pm.”
“The Azov regiment is still clearing the rubble to get civilians out,” said Palamar. “We hope this procedure will continue that we will manage to evacuate all the civilians.”
Ukraine’s presidency said on Friday that the evacuation of some civilians from had been planned for that day.
A UN representative to Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, said earlier this week she was travelling to the central city of Zaporizhzhia to prepare for a “hopeful” evacuation.
Russia last week said it had gained full control of the strategic port city, except for the huge Azovstal industrial area.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last week ordered a blockade of the steelworks, where several hundred Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are still sheltering in the maze of Soviet-era underground tunnels. Many require medical attention.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had repeatedly warned that if Russian forces killed the last remaining troops there, that would spell the end of any peace talks.