Over 300 rescued from Mariupol, as Ukraine's Zelensky pleads for more UN help

Women and children evacuated from Mariupol arrive by bus in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on May 3, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

KYIV (AFP) - Over 300 Ukrainians were evacuated from the battered city of Mariupol on Wednesday (May 4) as President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the UN to help to rescue the remaining wounded trapped underneath the giant Azovstal steel plant.

Speaking to the nation in his usual evening address, Zelensky said 344 people were evacuated from Mariupol and nearby areas and headed northwest for the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is controlled by Kyiv.

But earlier in the day, he also pleaded with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to help rescue the wounded who are still sheltering at the plant.

"The lives of the people who remain there are in danger," Zelensky told Guterres by phone.

In a statement, the Red Cross said it was "relieved that more lives have been spared" and called for renewed efforts to continue evacuations from the region "in light of the immense suffering of the civilians."

Meanwhile, fierce battles with Russian troops continued to rage at the Azovstal plant, where Ukrainian soldiers had been holed up for weeks.

The Kremlin denied that Russian troops were storming the Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s southern port city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian fighters and civilians are trapped, and said humanitarian corridors were operating there on Thursday (May 5).

Asked if a claim by a senior Ukrainian official that Russian troops had broken into the plant’s territory was true, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred reporters to President Vladimir Putin’s previous order not to storm it.  

Mr Putin was shown on television on April 21 telling his defence minister instead to seal off the vast complex so “a fly can’t pass through”.  

“You were witnesses, the president gave the order to refrain from an assault. No other orders were announced and the (humanitarian) corridors are working today”, Mr Peskov said.

In his conversation with Guterres, Zelensky said that this week's evacuations showed the world "that international organisations can be effective".

He "expressed hope for a successful continuation of the ongoing evacuation operation".

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