Ukrainian fighter says UN evacuation initiative is cause for hope

A view shows a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol
A view shows a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works behind buildings damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 28, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

KYIV, April 29 (Reuters) - A Ukrainian fighter holed up in Mariupol's steel works said on Friday he hoped the United Nations would come to the besieged and devastated area to evacuate civilians, and that for the first time he had real hope his troops might make it out alive.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office said on Friday that Ukraine planned to evacuate civilians sheltering in underground bunkers in the vast industrial complex of Mariupol's Azovstal steel works, though he gave no details.

Russia, whose forces are surrounding the plant, did not immediately comment on the Ukrainian presidency's remarks.

Though Moscow last week claimed control over the war-torn city, hundreds of Ukrainian forces are dug in at Azovstal, which has been pounded by Russian forces.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said after meeting Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Thursday that intense discussions were under way to enable the evacuation of Azovstal.

Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, 39, a deputy commander of Ukraine's Azov Regiment, told Reuters he believed the comments by the United Nations could be a turning point.

"This is the first precedent when international organisations are ready and say they will come here," he said.

"If Russia's military wants to save face, at least somehow show that they are capable of something, then I think they will give them access here and we will finally be able to evacuate civilians," he said.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed "in principle" to U.N. and International Committee for the Red Cross involvement in evacuating the Azovstal plant. read more

"We are depending on the goodwill of all parties and we are in this together," United Nations Crisis Coordinator Amin Awad told Reuters on Friday morning.

The Mariupol city council has said about 100,000 residents across the city are "in mortal danger" because of Russian shelling and unsanitary conditions, and described a "catastrophic" shortage of drinking water and food. read more

Palamar, the fighter, said that shelling continued in the area despite the statements from the United Nations, but that he now had hope his troops might survive.

"I really believe that all the defenders of Mariupol - the troops that remained here, the wounded and those alive - that we will be able to save the lives of these heroes," he said.

"If it's about my feelings today, then I can say that I have a hope that we will be able to get as many guys out of here alive."

Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets and Leonardo Benassatto; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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