High casualties feared after school shelter in Ukraine bombed

Civilians evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol arrive at a temporary accommodation center in the village of Bezimenne, Ukraine on May 6. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that “all women, children and elderly people” have been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant.

“The order of the president has been done,” she said. “This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation has been completed.”

In brief comments to CNN from inside the Azovstal plant on Saturday evening local time, one of the Ukrainian defenders at the complex said that an evacuation of civilians had been conducted without incident.

The comments were made by Mykhailo Vershynin, the chief of the Mariupol Patrol Police. He gave no details about the number that had been able to leave.

Separately, the general staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that Russian forces continue to blockade the Ukrainian troops inside the plant and were using artillery and tank fire as they conducted assault operations.

What Russia is saying: A senior Russian official has agreed that the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal steel plant has been completed.

Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia’s National Center for Defense Management, said that Russia had evacuated a total of 51 civilians from Azovstal, in cooperation with the United Nations and the Red Cross, since May 5. Mizintzev said the tally included just one person evacuated Saturday.

The Russian account, which was carried by the state news agency TASS, appeared to match that of the Ukrainian government.

The total of 51 evacuees is much lower than previous estimates of the number of civilians still trapped at Azovstal. As of Saturday morning local time, more than 100 civilians — including children — were still thought to be trapped inside the sprawling complex, along with several hundred soldiers, many of them injured. It’s not known how many men besides the Ukrainian soldiers might still be in the sprawling complex. 

One of the Ukrainian soldiers still at Azovstal, Serhiy Volina, posted on Facebook late Saturday local time: “Looks like I’m in some hellish reality show where we military fighting for life, taking every chance to save and the whole world is just watching an interesting story!” he said.

“This is the real life! Pain, suffering, hunger, torment, tears, fear, death – all real!” he wrote.

Volina said he was hoping for a miracle from the “higher powers” and that “this hell of a reality show will end.”

“Time goes by, and time is our lives!” he concluded.