By Alessandra Prentice
KYIV (Reuters) -U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said after talks in Kyiv on Thursday that intense discussions were still continuing to enable the evacuation of a steel plant where fighters and civilians are holed up in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
The meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, followed talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday where the latter agreed “in principle” to U.N. and International Committee for the Red Cross involvement in evacuating the Azovstal plant.
The Mariupol city council has said about 100,000 residents across the city are “in mortal danger” because of Russian shelling and unsanitary conditions, and described a “catastrophic” shortage of drinking water and food.
“Mariupol is a crisis within a crisis. Thousands of civilians need life-saving assistance. Many are elderly, in need of medical care or have limited mobility,” Guterres told reporters after the talks with Zelenskiy.
“They need an escape route out of the apocalypse.”
Referring to the possibility of a United Nations and ICRC-coordinated humanitarian corridor for the hundreds of civilians believed to still be in Azovstal, Guterres said: “As we speak, there are intense discussions to move forward on this proposal to make it a reality.
“I can only tell you we are doing everything we can to make it happen. I’m not going to enter into any comment that could undermine that possibility,” he said.
On April 21, nearly two months into the siege of the strategic port city, Russia declared victory in Mariupol although remaining Ukrainian forces were holding out in a vast underground complex below Azovstal, where civilians were also sheltering.
Speaking alongside Guterres, Zelenskiy said: “I trust and believe – just as many relatives of those people who are blocked in Azovstal (steel plant) do – that the Secretary-General and we will be able to have a successful result.”
(Reporting by Alessandra Prentice; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Sandra Maler)