‘Devastating’ flight of refugees from Mariupol in Ukraine

Russia-Ukraine War: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has entered day 80.

Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine:

A large convoy of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday after waiting days for Russian troops to allow them to leave.

Mariupol, now largely controlled by Russia, has been razed to the ground 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 leave Mariupol and then somehow make their way to Berdyansk, some 80km further west along the coast, and other settlements before driving 200km northwest to Zaporizhzhia.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, said he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed. A relative who used “secret detours” managed to get him out of Mariupol to Berdyansk.

“We barely made it, there were a lot of elderly people among us… the journey was devastating. But it was worth it,” he said after the convoy arrived in the dark.

An aide to the mayor of Mariupol had earlier said the convoy numbered between 500 and 1,000 cars, representing the largest single evacuation of the city since the Russian invasion on February 24.

Iryna Petrenko, 63, said she had initially stayed behind to care for her 92-year-old mother, who later died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” he said. For a time, Russian authorities did not allow a large number of cars to leave, she said.

Only the port city’s vast Azovstal steelworks remains in the hands of Ukrainian fighters after a protracted battle.

“My parents’ house was hit by an airstrike, all the windows were blown out,” said Yulia Panteleeva, 27, who along with other family members had been absent.

“I can’t help but imagine things that could happen to us if we stayed home,” he said.

Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what it describes as anti-Russian nationalism. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war.

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