Large convoy from Mariupol reaches safety, refugees speak of “devastating” flight

Large convoy from Mariupol reaches safety, refugees speak of “devastating” flight

Zaporizhia, Ukraine, May 14 (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 for days for Russian troops to give them the allow departure.

Mariupol, now largely controlled by Russia, was razed to the ground during the 80-day-old 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 80 km further west along the coast – and other settlements before heading 200 km northwest to Zaporizhia.

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Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old pensioner, said he lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was vandalized. A relative managed to get him from Mariupol to Berdyansk by “secret detours”.

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

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

Iryna Petrenko, 63, said she initially stayed to look after her 92-year-old mother, who later died.

“We buried her next to her house because there wasn’t a place to bury someone,” she said. For a while, Russian authorities denied a large number of cars, she said.

Only the port city’s huge Azovstal Steelworks is still in the hands of Ukrainian militants after a long struggle.

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

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

Moscow is calling its actions a “military special operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what it portrays as anti-Russian nationalism. Ukraine and the West say Russia has started an unprovoked war.

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Reporting by Gleb Garanich and Leonardo Benassatto; writing by David Ljunggren; Edited by Daniel Wallis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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