Ukrainian forces at the Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol said Tuesday that Russia’s military is now storming the complex.
The move comes almost two weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military not to storm the plant, but rather block off the last pocket of resistance in the besieged Ukrainian city.
Asked about reports in Ukrainian media that the plant was being bombarded, Sviatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment that is holed up there, said “it is true.”
Smoke rises above the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works factory in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine on Monday, May 2.
Vadim Astafyev, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, said Tuesday that Ukrainian fighters holed up at the plant “came out of the basements, took up firing positions on the territory and in the buildings of the plant.” Astafyev said Russian forces along with rebel forces from Donetsk were using “artillery and aircraft… to destroy these firing positions.”
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said earlier Tuesday that more than 200 civilians are still at the Azovstal factory following United Nations-assisted evacuation efforts there in recent days, according to Reuters.
Women walk past a destroyed apartment building in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, on Monday, May 2.
Mariupol patrol police chief Mykhailo Vershinin also was quoted by Ukrainian television on Tuesday as saying that the Russian military “have started to storm the plant in several places.”
Denys Shlega, a commander of a brigade of Ukraine’s National Guard at Azovstal, said “the enemy is trying to storm the Azovstal plant with significant forces using armored vehicles.”
In a statement Tuesday, the U.N. said “101 civilians have successfully been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and other areas in a safe passage operation coordinated by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.”
“Thanks to the operation, 101 women, men, children, and older persons could finally leave the bunkers below the Azovstal steelworks and see the daylight after two months,” said Osnat Lubrani, the U.N. Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine. “Another 58 people joined us in Manhush, a town on the outskirts of Mariupol.
“We have accompanied 127 people today to Zaporizhzhia, about [143 miles] northwest of Mariupol, where they are receiving initial humanitarian assistance, including health and psychological care, from UN agencies, ICRC and our humanitarian partners,” she added. “Some evacuees decided not to proceed towards Zaporizhzhia with the convoy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.