Over 300 civilians evacuated from Azovstal steel plant, says Ukrainian President Zelensky

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Over 300 civilians, including women and children, have been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian authorities were helped by the teams of the International Red Cross and the Organisation of the United Nations in conducting the first stage of the evacuation mission.

They are preparing for the second stage in which the wounded and medics will be evacuated as Russian forces have been pounding the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for several weeks.

Several fighters and civilians have been trapped in deep bunkers inside the Soviet-era steel mill under heavy bombardment from the Russian army.

They have been hiding in the tunnels crisscrossing the site with inadequate basic necessities as the mill has emerged as a symbol of resistance to the Russian effort to capture swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine in the 10-week-old war.

In his address, Zelensky said the Ukrainian fighters in the plant will not surrender and condemned the attack by the Russian forces which had destroyed or damaged nearly 200 cultural heritage sites as part of the conflict.

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”Every day of this war the Russian army does something that leaves (me) speechless. But every next day it does something else for you to have this feeling anew,” he added.

Previously, Russian President Vladimir Putin assured that Moscow-backed separatists have also evacuated a total of 176 civilians from the plant.

The 69-year-old Kremlin leader has called his attack on Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbour and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West.

(With inputs from agencies)

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