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Ukraine battle: United Nations mobilises for Mariupol plant evacuation

The United Nations says its humanitarian office is mobilising a team from around the world to co-ordinate the removal of civilians from the besieged steel plant in the battered Ukrainian city of Mariupol with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in principle to UN and ICRC participation in the plant evacuation during a nearly two-hour, one-on-one meeting on Tuesday.

The sprawling Azovstal complex, which has been almost completely destroyed by Russian attacks, is the last pocket of organised Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol.

An estimated 2000 troops and 1000 civilians are said to be holed up in bunkers underneath the wrecked structure.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters on Wednesday that the UN is trying to translate the Guterres-Putin agreement in principle “into an agreement in detail and an agreement on the ground”.

“And ultimately what we want is to make sure that a ceasefire would be respected that would allow us to move people safely,” he said.

Haq said UN officials are having follow-on discussions on Wednesday with authorities in Russia and Ukraine “to develop the operational framework for the timely evacuation of civilians”.

He said the exact timing depends on the outcome of discussions between the UN humanitarian office and Russia’s Ministry of Defence in Moscow as well as between the UN crisis co-ordinator for Ukraine, Amin Awad, and the authorities in Kyiv, where Guterres will be meeting Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday.

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