WHO awaits Mariupol evacuees as Russia fires rockets at steel works

People fleeing Ukraine arrive in Przemysl, Poland, where they receive assistance from volunteers and civil society organizations. (Credit: IOM 2022)

Russian forces reportedly fire rockets at trapped civilians in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol despite the ceasefire.

Over the last two days the World Health Organisation (WHO) has assessed the readiness of hospitals, restocked medical supplies, and trained volunteers in preparation for the arrival of evacuees from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, where hundreds of civilians have been trapped after Russian troops captured Ukraine’s Southern port city. 

Despite a ceasefire, Russian forces fired a volley of rockets earlier today at the steel complex, Reuters reported on Tuesday. Hundreds of civilians have been evacuated in recent days, but officials say around 200 are still trapped, according to the news agency, which also said that it wasn’t clear if the fighting was hindering evacuation efforts.

Before the attack was reported on, WHO incident manager for Ukraine, Dr. Dorit Nizan addressed the UN press conference in Geneva from the reception centre at Zaporizhzhia, where UN teams and Ukrainian authorities are waiting. 

“We do not know what to expect on the convoy, but everyone is ready for whatever is needed,” she told reporters, when asked about the scale of injuries and number of evacuees expected. 

Dr. Nizan, who worked on the ground during the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea, told the press that, compared to then, the Ukrainian support systems are far better supported and more resilient now. “The pandemic and the previous war has built the system for such an emergency,” she said. 

Since Saturday, over a hundred people have passed through the reception centre every day. Most of them are families with children and the elderly who fled towns and villages in the vicinity of Mariupol. These families were exhausted, but have sustained only minor physical injuries from their travels, she told the press. 

As of 3 May, WHO has validated 186 attacks against health care in Ukraine, with over 73 deaths.