Large convoy from Mariupol reaches safety, refugees speak of ‘devastating’ escape

Zaporizhia, Ukraine (Reuters) – A large convoy of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhia on Saturday after waiting days for Russian forces to let them leave.

Mariupol, controlled mostly by Russia, was flattened during the 80-day war. Ukraine has been gradually evacuating civilians from the devastated city for more than two months.

The refugees first had to get out of Mariupol and then somehow make their way to Berdyansk – about 80 km west along the coast – and other settlements before driving 200 km northwest of Zaporozhye.

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Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old pensioner, said he lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed. One of his relatives, using “secret bypass roads”, managed to get him from Mariupol to Berdyansk.

After the caravan arrived in the dark, he said, “We barely made it, there were a lot of old people among us… The trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

An aide to Mariupol’s mayor had previously said the convoy contained between 500 and 1,000 vehicles, marking the largest single evacuation from the city since the Russian invasion on February 24.

Irina Petrenko, 63, said she initially stayed to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who then passed away.

“We buried her near her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said. She said that for some time the Russian authorities did not allow large numbers of cars to leave.

See also  Ukraine fears that the atrocities of Mariupol will be repeated elsewhere in Donbass

Only the vast steelworks of Azovstal were still in the hands of the Ukrainian fighters after a long battle.

“My parents’ house was hit in an air strike, all the windows were shattered,” said Yulia Panteleva, 27, who was absent with other family members.

“I can’t stop imagining things that might happen to us if we stayed home,” she said.

Moscow describes its actions as a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what it portrays as anti-Russian nationalism. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched a war without provocation.

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(Report) Submitted by Gleb Jaranic and Leonardo Pinassato; Written by David Ljunggren; Editing by Daniel Wallis

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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