Pro-Russian forces said 50 more people were evacuated on Saturday from the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, where scores of civilians have been trapped for weeks alongside Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Soviet-era plant.
The territorial defense headquarters of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) said on Telegram that a total of 176 civilians had now been evacuated from the steelworks.
Reuters could not immediately verify the report.
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About 50 civilians had been moved on Friday from the sprawling, bombed-out plant to a reception center in nearby Bezimenne, in the separatist DPR, whose forces are fighting alongside Russian troops to expand their control of large parts of eastern Ukraine. Dozens of civilians were also evacuated last weekend.
“Today, May 7, 50 people were evacuated from the territory of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol,” the DPR said.
Mariupol has endured the most destructive bombardment of the 10-week-old war. The plant is the last part of the city still in the hands of Ukrainian fighters. Scores of civilians have been trapped for weeks alongside them in the plant with little food, water or medicine.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a late-night video address on Friday that Ukraine was working on a diplomatic effort to save defenders barricaded inside the steelworks. It was unclear how many Ukrainian fighters remained there.
“Influential intermediaries are involved, influential states,” he said, but provided no further details.
The defenders have vowed not to surrender. Ukrainian officials fear Russian forces want to wipe them out by Monday, in time for Moscow’s commemorations of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.
Evacuations of civilians from the Azovstal plant brokered by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) began last weekend. But they were halted during the week by renewed fighting.
The city’s mayor estimated earlier this week that 200 people were trapped at the plant. It was unclear how many remained.
President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Mariupol on April 21, ordered the plant sealed off and called for Ukrainian forces inside to disarm. But Russia later resumed its assault on the plant.
Pro-Russian forces say 50 more people evacuated from besieged Ukraine plant