Putin agrees to UN, Red Cross help to evacuate civilians from Mariupol steel plant -U.N.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 25, 2022.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed “in principle” to U.N. and International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) involvement in the evacuation of civilians from a besieged steel plant in Ukraine’s southern city of Mariupol, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

During a meeting in Moscow, Putin and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres discussed the situation at the huge Azovstal steel plant, where the last Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol are hunkered down after months of Russian siege and bombardment.

“Follow-on discussions will be had with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Russian Defence Ministry,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement after the meeting.

Earlier on Tuesday, Putin told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that there were no military operations underway in Mariupol and that Kyiv should “take responsibility” for the people holed up in the Azovstal steel plant.

Ukraine on Monday appealed for the United Nations and the ICRC to be involved in the evacuation of civilians from Azovstal. Guterres is expected to meet with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Thursday.

During a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Guterres said he has proposed a “Humanitarian Contact Group” of Russia, Ukraine and U.N. officials “to look for opportunities for the opening of safe corridors, with local cessations of hostilities, and to guarantee that they are actually effective.”

Moscow describes its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” and denies targeting civilians. It blames Ukraine for the repeated failure of humanitarian corridors.

On April 21, Russia declared victory in Mariupol although remaining Ukrainian forces held out in a vast underground complex below Azovstal.

Russia said on Monday it would open a humanitarian corridor for civilians to leave the steel plant, but Ukraine said there was no such agreement and that Russia was still attacking it.