The evacuation of civilians from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol has started and around 100 people are on their way to safety, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday.
The civilians are heading to “a controlled area,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.
“Tomorrow we’ll meet them in Zaporizhzhia,” he said, referring to the Ukrainian-controlled city that lies some 220 kilometers (130 miles) northwest of Mariupol.
“Grateful to our team! Now they, together with UN, are working on the evacuation of other civilians from the plant,” he added.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry said 80 civilians, including women and children, were evacuated from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.
In a statement, the ministry said those who were evacuated to the settlement of Bezymennoe in Donetsk were provided with accommodation, food, and necessary medical assistance.
According to the ministry, those who wanted to go to areas controlled by Kyiv were handed over to representatives of the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Later on Sunday, the ICRC said in a statement that its team “is currently participating in an operation to facilitate the safe passage of civilians out of the Azovstal plant and Mariupol towards Zaporizhzhia.”
“A convoy of buses and ambulances left on 29 April, travelled some 230 kilometers (143 miles) and reached the plant in Mariupol on Saturday morning, local time,” it added.
Several hundreds of civilians are believed to have been holed up in bunkers beneath the sprawling steel plant for weeks, along with the last remaining Ukrainian forces in the strategic port city.
After Antonio Guterres’ trip to Moscow this week, the UN said Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to a UN-facilitated evacuation operation at the Azovstal plant.
Mariupol has been largely destroyed by Russian forces, who are pushing to form a land link between areas under Russian control in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014.
At least 2,899 civilians have been killed and 3,235 others injured in Ukraine since the war with Russia began on Feb. 24, according to UN estimates. The true toll is feared to be much higher.
More than 5.4 million people have fled to other countries, with some 7.7 million people internally displaced, data from the UN refugee agency shows.