UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. says its humanitarian office is mobilizing an experienced team from around the world to coordinate the complex evacuation of civilians from the besieged steel plant in the battered Ukrainian city of Mariupol with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in principle to U.N. and ICRC participation in the evacuation from the plant during a nearly two-hour, one-on-one meeting Tuesday. The sprawling Azovstal complex, which has been almost completely destroyed by Russian attacks, is the last pocket of organized Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. An estimated 2,000 troops and 1,000 civilians are said to be holed up in bunkers underneath the wrecked structure.
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Wednesday that the U.N. is trying to translate the Guterres-Putin agreement in principle “into an agreement in detail and an agreement on the ground.”
“And ultimately what we want is to make sure that a cease-fire would be respected that would allow us to move people safely,” he said.
Haq said U.N. officials are having follow-on discussions Wednesday with authorities in Moscow and Kyiv “to develop the operational framework for the timely evacuation of civilians.”
He said the exact timing depends on the outcome of discussions between the U.N. humanitarian office and Russia’s Ministry of Defense in Moscow as well as between the U.N. crisis coordinator for Ukraine, Amin Awad, and the authorities in Kyiv, where Guterres will be meeting Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday.