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Russian President Vladimir Putin agrees to UN evacuation of Ukrainian soldiers from Mariupol

Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed "in principle" to U.N. and International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) involvement in the evacuation of civilians from a besieged steel plant in Ukraine's southern seaport of Mariupo

Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed "in principle" to U.N. and International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) involvement in the evacuation of civilians from a besieged steel plant in Ukraine's southern seaport of Mariupol, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

During a meeting in Moscow, Putin and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres discussed the situation at the Azovstal steel plant, where the last batch of Ukrainian soldiers are still holding out under the Russian siege.

"Follow-on discussions will be had with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Russian Defence Ministry," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement after the meeting.

Putin told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that there were no military operations underway in Mariupol and that Kyiv should "take responsibility" for the people holed up in the Azovstal steel plant.

During a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Guterres said he has proposed a "Humanitarian Contact Group" of Russia, Ukraine and U.N. officials "to look for opportunities for the opening of safe corridors, with local cessations of hostilities, and to guarantee that they are actually effective."

Russia has tightened the siege around the steel plant but has kept its bombardment on hold as it expects the Ukranian military contingent  , to surrender. The commander of the unit has admitted that they were running out of ammunition and food supplies. However, he is under pressure from the Ukraine’s political leadership to stick to his position. 

Mr. Guterres also told reporters that he had held “a very frank discussion” with Mr. Lavrov “and it is clear that there are two different positions on what is happening in Ukraine.”

“But it is my deep conviction that the sooner we end this war, the better – for the people of Ukraine, for the people of the Russian Federation, and those far beyond,” he said.

Underlining his role as a “messenger of peace”, the Secretary-General recalled that the UN has repeatedly appealed for ceasefires to protect civilians, as well as political dialogue towards a solution, which so far has not happened.

Also read: Russia's takeover of Mariupol triggers dialogue with UN chief over Ukraine