Zaporizhia, Ukraine, May 14 (Reuters)-Ukraine-controlled city on Saturday after a large fleet of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol waited a few days for Russian troops to leave them. Arrived at Zaporizhaz.

Mariupol, now mostly Russian-dominated, was flattened during the 80-day war. Ukraine has gradually evacuated civilians from devastated cities for more than two months.

Refugees had to leave Mariupol first, then somehow head to Berdyans’k (about 80 km further west along the coast) and other settlements, before 200 km head northwest to Zaporizhia. ..

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Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, said he lived in the basement for a month after the apartment was destroyed. His relatives, using the “secret detour”, managed to take him from Mariupol to Berdyans’k.

After the convoy arrived in the dark, “We had little success. There were a lot of older people in us … the trip was devastating, but it was worth it.” He said.

Mariupol’s aide previously said the number of convoys ranged from 500 to 1,000, representing a single evacuation from the largest city since Russia’s February 24 invasion.

Irina Petrenko, 63, said she first stayed to take care of her 92-year-old mother and then died.

“We buried her next to her house because no one had a place to bury it,” she said. For some time, she said, Russian authorities had not allowed a large number of cars to leave the country.

Only the vast Azovstal ironworks in the port city are still in the hands of Ukrainian fighters after long battles.

“My parents’ house was hit by an aerial attack and all the windows were blown away,” said Julia Panteleeva, 27, who was absent with other family members.

“I can’t stop imagining what might happen to us if we were at home,” she said.

Moscow calls the action to disarm Ukraine and remove what it describes as anti-Russian nationalism as a “special military operation.” Ukraine and the West say Russia has launched an unprovoked war.

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Report by Gleb Garanich and Leonardo Benassatto. Written by David Ljunggren; edited by Daniel Wallis

Our Criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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