NATO member Turkey has proposed the evacuation of wounded fighters hidden in a steel plant in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Saturday.
Ibrahim Kalin told Reuters in an interview that he had personally discussed the proposal with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv two weeks ago, and that it remained “on the table”, although Moscow did not agree with it.
According to the plan, the people evacuated from the vast Azovstal steel plant will be taken ashore in the port of Berdiansk, which, like Mariupol, is on the Sea of Azov, and a Turkish ship will take them across the Black Sea to Istanbul, he said.
“It simply came to our notice then. We are ready. In fact, our ship is ready to leave and bring the wounded soldiers and other civilians to Turkey, “said Kalin, who is also Erdogan’s top foreign policy adviser, according to agerpres.ro.
Ukraine and Russia did not immediately comment on the possibility of an evacuation at sea.
After weeks of siege and Russian bombing, Mariupol is in Russian hands, but hundreds of Ukrainian fighters are resisting the steel plant under heavy fire.
Several civilians hiding in the factory were evacuated this month with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations. Turkey’s proposal also includes the evacuation of civilians still there.
Turkey wants to evacuate wounded at sea to Mariupol after picking them up from Berdiansk port if Russia agrees
Zelenski said complex talks were under way to evacuate a large number of wounded soldiers from the steel plant in exchange for the release of Russian prisoners of war.
Russia, which initially said the fighters should surrender, has spoken little in public about the talks.
Kalin said Russia’s position was “changing day by day.”
“They are looking at the security situation on the ground and other dynamics, their negotiations, their own internal coordination,” he said. “So sometimes it’s hard to get a firm response (or) a commitment from either party.”
Turkey is close to Russia and Ukraine, has good ties with both countries and has tried to facilitate peace talks. He opposed the invasion of Russia and supplied armed drones to Kiev, while at the same time opposing Western sanctions on Moscow.
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