After getting off the buses, the evacuees headed to the tents that the Ukrainian government has set up to help them on the next part of their journey.
A total of 127 people arrived in Zaporizhzhia from the steel mill and surrounding area following the evacuation effort, according to a written statement by UN humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine Osnat Lubrani on Tuesday.
There were 101 people evacuated from the steel mill, including “women, men, children and the elderly”, while another 58 joined from Manhush, a town outside Mariupol according to Lubrani.
CNN spoke to some of the displaced upon their arrival.
An elderly woman who emerged from a bus was carrying small quantities of medicines, a plastic cup, a toothbrush, a paper handkerchief – the things she has been feeding on for the past few weeks.
“I don’t have anyone here. I don’t know where to go now,” he told CNN.
She had been taking refuge underground in Azovstal for weeks and looked exhausted. She had lived in the dark and she still had a headlamp draped around her neck. She had some difficulty seeing in daylight.
“An immense relief”
Many of the displaced looked overwhelmed, exhausted, pale and thin, but also relieved to be safe.
Elina Tsybulchenko, a former employee of the plant, said she was in a bunker with her family from March 2 to May 1.
They survived on soup, canned food, and unsweetened tea, but not much, he said.
He told CNN that when they left, there were still 42 people – civilians – left in their bunker.
Speaking of the bombing, Tsybulchenko said: “I never thought the earth could shake like that. It didn’t just shake. The bunker jumped and shook.”
“Mariupol was my city, but now it is gone, there is nothing left,” he said.
Tsybulchenko said he lost precious family heirlooms, including a 150-year-old embroidered traditional costume.
“He survived the Holodomor [Stalin’s policy of collectivization that led to the Great Famine, where millions of Ukrainians died of starvation], deportation, World War I, World War II – not even the Nazis destroyed it. And the fascists did not destroy Mariupol. But the Russians came and destroyed it, “she said.
The family had three apartments, he said. “And everything is burned, everything is burned.”
On the way to Zaporizhzhia, Tsybulchenko said he started crying when he saw the Ukrainian flag.
Sergey Kuzmenko, an Azovstal employee who had been at the plant since March 8, described the conditions in the bunker as humid and unventilated.
“People rot in basements,” he said, “… there is humidity, there is no ventilation.”
“At the start of the war, the plant had 36 bomb shelters. But at the moment there are only a few left,” he added.
Kuzmenko said that as he was leaving the plant, he saw that two floors of their bunker were filled with seriously wounded soldiers.
Russian troops ransacked all of his personal belongings after he was evacuated and examined for tattoos, he said. “They offered the possibility of returning to Zaporizhzhia, or going to Russia or remaining in the DPR. Some remained in Russia. They did not force them.”
Kuzmenko described a tortuous journey with many stops and detours. He said the displaced were aware that hundreds of people they met could not join the convoy, including about 500 waiting in a shopping center outside Mariupol and in villages along the way.
In a statement, UN’s Lubrani said: “Seeing a 6-month-old baby playing with a straw of grass, his delighted mother told me this is the first time in his life that he has been able to do so. I saw tears of joy when family members trapped in different parts of the plant for two months came together. ”
The evacuation from Azovstal was mediated and organized by the United Nations and the International Red Cross (ICRC).
“It is an immense relief that some civilians who have suffered for weeks are now out,” ICRC President Peter Maurer said Tuesday.
“The ICRC has not forgotten the people who are still there, or those in other areas affected by hostilities or those in dire need of humanitarian aid, wherever they are. We will spare no effort to reach them.”