A large convoy from Mariupol has arrived safely, refugees are talking about a “devastating” escape

ZAPOROZHYE, Ukraine, May 14 (Reuters) – A large convoy of cars and vans transporting refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporozhye on Saturday, after waiting days for Russian troops to allow them to leave.

Mariupol, which is now largely under Russian control, was razed to the ground during the 80-day-old war. Ukraine has been gradually evacuating civilians from the devastated city for more than two months.

The refugees first had to leave Mariupol, and then somehow pass to Berdyansk – some 80 km west along the coast – and other settlements before driving 200 km northwest to Zaporozhye.

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Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old pensioner, said he lived in the basement a month after his apartment was destroyed. Using “secret detours”, the cousin managed to get him out of Mariupol to Berdyansk.

“We barely arrived, there were a lot of older people among us … the trip was devastating. But it was worth it, “he said after the convoy arrived in the dark.

The assistant mayor of Mariupol previously said that the convoy numbered between 500 and 1,000 cars, which is the largest single evacuation from the city since the Russian invasion on February 24.

Irina Petrenko, 63, said that she initially stayed to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who later died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was no one to bury anyone,” she said. Russian authorities have not allowed a large number of cars to leave for some time, she said.

Only the huge Azovstal steel plant in the port is still in the hands of Ukrainian fighters after a long battle.

“My parents’ house was hit by an air strike, all the windows were blown up,” said Julia Pantelejeva, 27, who was absent along with other family members.

“I can’t stop imagining things that could happen to us if we stay at home,” she said.

Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and get rid of what it portrays as anti-Russian nationalism. Ukraine and the West say that Russia has started an unprovoked war.

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Reporting by Gleb Garanič and Leonard Benasat; Writing by David Ljunggren; Editor Daniel Vallis

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