One evacuee described being in the steel mill under constant fire as “hell.”
Survivors who escaped the Azovstal Steelworks have described the “hell” they left behind, picking shattered glass from their food and risking their lives to get water.
Evacuee Anna Zaitseva, who was carrying her six-month-old baby, told reporters in the southern city of Zaporizhzhya that she had tried to escape three times before and feared she had been “left behind”.
“Under constant fire, sleeping on improvised mats, being shattered by the blast waves, running with your son and being thrown to the ground by a blast — everything was horrific,” she said after arriving at a UN aid center as part of a major evacuation operation .
“Raising a child is a difficult thing,” she added. “It’s even more difficult in a bunker without lights.”
Ms Zaitseva, visibly upset, said her father was injured trying to fetch fresh water.
“To find water, we had to move between buildings. The men did that for us, including my father,” she added. “He was wounded, but thank God it wasn’t fatal.”
Ms Zaitseva is one of around 100 people rescued from the Asozvstal Steel Plant in Mariupol over the weekend. Her release was negotiated by the UN and the Red Cross after weeks of talks between Russia and Ukraine.
But hundreds remain trapped inside as Russia renews its attacks on the facility.
Food supplies were scarce, as were facilities; A woman revealed they had defecated in bins and sacks.
Arriving in Zaporizhzhya, Elina Vasylivna said life in Azovstal was “hell”. She and her relatives were forced to steal food from a bombed-out depot.
“We went to get food off the floor. My son brought some cookies mixed with cement and glass. But we brushed it off and ate them because we hadn’t seen bread in six weeks,” she said.
“I would never wish that on my worst enemy in my life,” she added. “It’s just a horror, a nightmare.”
When she was finally able to leave, she said that Russian troops took her fingerprints, photos and a questionnaire. Her cell phone was confiscated and her underwear “examined”.
“They asked us what we think about the war, about our government. They called us ‘Ukrainian scum,'” she told the Daily Mail.
“Our phones were taken away and our underwear was personally examined. Our personal belongings were checked – it was like a totalitarian state.”
Elina Tsybulchenko, who used to work in quality control at the steel mill, recalled that bombs went off “every second”. She feared being trapped “in a mass grave.”
“Everything was shaking,” said the 54-year-old France 24.
“Dogs barked and children screamed. But the most difficult moment was when we were told that our bunker would not survive a direct hit.
“We understood that it would only be a mass grave and nobody could save us under fire. It would be impossible to save us.”
Stepping off one of the rescue buses, a 47-year-old woman, who declined to give her name, said she lost her brother at the steel mill. Your son is still there.
She warned that there was “no water, no electricity, no gas” in Azovstal, with “constant bombing raids”.
“Everything poured out of the sky. We were in the basement for a month and everything was shaking. The ground kept shaking,” she told reporters.
Another woman, who gave only her first name, Anna, came with two children, ages nine and one.
“I’m very happy to be on Ukrainian soil,” she said. “We thought we weren’t going to get out of there.”