Now multiple weeks into a standoff where Azov fighters and Ukrainian civilians have been holed up in a large Mariupol steel plant while surrounded by Russian forces who have total control of the city, another round of successful civilian evacuations as been accomplished. The United Nations has dubbed it a 'safe passage operation'.
"Evacuation of civilians from Azovstal began," Zelensky said on Twitter over the weekend. The group of at least 46 civilians which initially exited the massive Azovstal Iron and Steel Works mill are expected to arrive in the Ukrainian controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Monday. Follow-up reports put the total number of civilians leaving the plant at 100, after the latest pause in fighting was secured with the help of the United Nations and Red Cross.
The past couple weeks have seen a series of short-lived ceasefires at the plant, mostly for the purpose of allowing the estimated trapped few hundred or up to 1,000 civilians to safely exit, facilitated on the outside by Russian forces who control the area above ground.
Last month Russia's military said it was ordered not to go into the cavernous plant, which has several floors underground, and to instead wait it out. The estimated couple thousand mostly Azov fighters - and what's also believed to possibly be foreign mercenaries as well - have for many days been perpetually low on supplies and it's only a matter of time before they are forced to emerge.
The situation has been described as "hell" for those fighters and civilians still trapped:
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said at a press conference Friday that supplies inside the plant are dwindling: “It is not a matter of days, it’s a matter of hours,” he said, adding: “If Mariupol is hell, Azovstal is worse.”
Some of those who upon the start of the invasion sought shelter at the Azovstal complex may have been there for two months at this point. Surrounding Russian forces have ordered Azov members - who are part of an acknowledged neo-Nazi regiment - to lay down their weapons and surrender.
Roughly 100 civilians have been evacuated from a besieged steel plant in Mariupol.— RTÉ News (@rtenews) May 2, 2022
Ukrainian authorities are planning to evacuate more civilians from the city today, following weeks trapped under heavy fire in the Azovstal steel complex | More: https://t.co/S14yZ6Caok pic.twitter.com/S6YWOgRyQF
The destroyed city's mayor was further cited as saying that "women, children and the elderly – who have been stranded for nearly two months – will be evacuated to the city, where they will receive immediate humanitarian support, including psychological services."
Meanwhile, over the weekend House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the most senior US official to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky on the ground in Kiev since the war's beginning.
Зустріч зі спікером Палати представників Конгресу США @SpeakerPelosi в Києві. Сполучені Штати є лідером потужної підтримки України в боротьбі з агресією РФ. Дякуємо, що допомагаєте захищати суверенітет і територіальну цілісність нашої держави! pic.twitter.com/QXSBPFoGQh— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 1, 2022
She said during the surprise visit, "We are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom, that we’re on a frontier of freedom and that your fight is a fight for everyone. And so our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done."
They spent a little over three hours on the ground. The delegation included the following: "...Reps. Gregory Meeks of New York, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence panel, and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who leads the House Rules Committee. Democratic Reps. Bill Keating of Massachusetts, Barbara Lee of California and Jason Crow of Colorado were also part of the delegation, according to Pelosi’s office," as listed by CNN.