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Mariupol evacuees recount their “heartbreaking” moment in the bunker below the Azovstal factory

Mariupol evacuees recount

Azovstal steel plant employee Natalia Usmanova, 37, shares her story after being rescued, May 1, 2022. Photo: Reuters

On May 1, Usmanova, 37, talked to Reuters after being evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant. The factory was a vast complex established under Josef Stalin and designed with an underground network of bunkers and tunnels to fend off attacks.

“I was afraid that the bunker wouldn’t withstand the impact of the bomb, I was extremely stressed,” Usmanova said, describing her time underground.

“When the bunker started shaking, I panicked because I thought I might be stuck here forever, my husband can confirm.”

“In the bunker, we didn’t see the sun,” she said after being taken to the village of Bezimenne in an area of ​​Donetsk, about 30km east of Mariupol.

She recalls the lack of air in the underground shelters and the fear that plagued the lives of those hiding there.

Usmanova was among dozens of civilians evacuated from the factory in Mariupol, a southern port city that has been besieged by Russian troops for weeks.

Accompanied by a convoy of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), she and her husband joked that they would no longer have to go to the toilet with a torch.

“You can’t imagine what we went through there,” Usmanova said. “I’ve lived and worked there all my life, but what’s happened in the last few days has been terrible.”

Russian forces have been attacking the port city for almost two months, turning Mariupol into a wasteland with an unspecified death toll and thousands struggling to survive without water or food.

The city is under Russian control but a number of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians take refuge underneath Azovstal.

On May 1, the United Nations said that the evacuation of people from these areas had been underway since April 29. UN spokesman Saviano Abreu said: “The United Nations has confirmed that an evacuation is taking place at the Azovstal steel plant, in coordination with the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross). The operation is underway, we will not share more details, as it could jeopardize the safety of civilians and the convoy,” he said.

ICRC said the convoy traveled 230km to reach the steel plant.

Pope Francis on May 1 described Mariupol as “terrifyingly bombarded and destroyed”, saying the war in Ukraine caused him “suffering and crying a lot”, and he called for more humanitarian corridor to evacuate people trapped in the Mariupol steel mills.

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