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“A glimpse of hope” as safe passage operations pick up in Ukraine

5-5-2022 |

By Saviano Abreu, OCHA spokesperson in Ukraine

Antonina hugged and kissed her two grandchildren before sending them off to relative safety last night, when a UN-monitored evacuation convoy passed through her hometown, Tokmak, in Ukraine’s Zaporizka Oblast.

As the children boarded the evacuation bus to go farther west, Antonina explained to me why she and her husband, the children’s grandfather, had decided to stay in Tokmak, even though it has seen its fair share of fighting and insecurity. “This is my home,” she told me. “Everything I have is here.”

From now on, only 60 kms will separate Antonina from her grandchildren. But with the war raging on, she simply doesn’t know when they will be reunited.

On 4 May, I accompanied the evacuation convoy from Zaporizhzhia to areas around Mariupol and back with my colleagues from OCHA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The evacuation convoy was possible because both parties to the conflict had agreed to silence the guns along the agreed route, a stretch of some 230 kms.

More than 300 people who wanted to leave areas of fighting did so yesterday. The day before, in another so-called safe passage operation, 127 civilians reached Zaporizhzhia. Many of these evacuees were brought out from underground shelters below the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, which has been under relentless bombardment since the war began. Others joined from nearby communities.

Yesterday I also met 66-year-old Lida and her daughter Luba, 27. They had been on the road for a week since leaving their town, close to Mariupol. They first started to move when they heard rumours about an evacuation.

Lida and Luba reached Tokmak with the help of Ukrainian friends. Both women were exhausted and hungry but visibly relieved to see us and our UN and ICRC vehicles. They laughed and joked with me about the “old car” that had managed to bring them this far. We were happy to bring them the rest of the way. We reached Zaporizhzhia later in the evening.

OCHA is, of course, ready to help evacuate more people, hand in hand with ICRC, when we have the guarantees of safe passage that we need. We’ll do that from Mariupol and anywhere in Ukraine where the fighting goes on. To achieve this, we engage with the parties to the conflict on a daily basis. Every evacuation counts. It literally saves lives.

We are also committed to returning to Mariupol and bringing urgent humanitarian supplies to the people who’ve stayed behind. We know they live on the edge of existence, hunkered down in damaged and destroyed buildings, with no access to water or electricity.
The past few days have shown that safe passage is possible. There’s a glimpse of hope. And in a warzone like Ukraine, humanitarians will insist that whatever can be done, must be done.