A large convoy of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhya on Saturday after waiting for days to allow Russian troops to leave.
Mariupol, now mostly Russian controlled, has been flattened during the 80-day-old war. Ukraine is slowly evacuating civilians from the devastated city for more than two months.
The refugees had to first exit Mariupol and then somehow made their way to Burdiansk – about 80 km further west along the coast – and other settlements before a 200-kilometer drive to the northwest to Zaporizhzhya.
Retired Nikolai Pavlov, 74, said he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed. A relative using the “secret affair” managed to take her from Mariupol to Bardyansk.
After the convoy arrived in the dark, he said, “We had barely made it, there were too many elders among us… The journey was disastrous. But it was worth it.”
An aide to Mariupol’s mayor previously said the convoy numbered between 500 and 1,000 cars, representing the largest single evacuation from the city since Russia’s February 24 invasion.
Irina Petrenko, 63, said she initially stayed to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who later died.
“We buried him next to his house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said. He said that for some time the Russian authorities did not allow a large number of cars to pass.
After a long battle, only the vast Azovstal steelworks of the port city are still in the hands of Ukrainian fighters.
“My parents’ house was hit by an air raid, all the windows were blown away,” said 27-year-old Yulia Panteleeva, with other family members absent.
“I can’t stop imagining the things that could happen to us if we stayed home,” she said.
Moscow called its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and characterized it as anti-Russian nationalism. Ukraine and the West say that Russia started the war without any reason.
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