How many Ukrainian fighters were holed up inside was unclear, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000 in recent weeks, and 500 were reported to be wounded. A few hundred civilians also remained there, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
Russian forces Tuesday began storming the steel mill containing the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, Ukrainian defenders said, just as scores of civilians evacuated from the bombed-out plant reached relative safety and told of days and nights filled with dread and despair from constant shelling, AP reports.
Osnat Lubrani, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said that thanks to the evacuation effort over the weekend, 101 people — including women, the elderly, and 17 children, the youngest 6 months old — were able to emerge from the bunkers under the Azovstal steelworks and “see the daylight after two months.”
One evacuee said she went to sleep at the plant every night afraid she wouldn’t wake up.
“You can’t imagine how scary it is when you sit in the bomb shelter, in a damp and wet basement, and it is bouncing and shaking,” 54-year-old Elina Tsybulchenko said upon arriving in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) northwest of Mariupol, in a convoy of buses and ambulances.
She said if the shelter were hit by a bomb like the ones that left the huge craters she saw on the two occasions she ventured outside, “all of us would be done.”
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