About 30 Turkish citizens remain sheltering in a mosque in Ukraine’s Mariupol as thousands of people have evacuated the besieged port city via a humanitarian corridor since Monday.
According to Ismail Hacioglu, head of the Sultan Suleyman Mosque Association in Mariupol, roughly 50 Turkish citizens have escaped the city over the last two days, including most of the more than 80 Turks who had sought refuge in the mosque.
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“Eight cars left the mosque on Wednesday – four had Turkish citizens inside, four had Muslims from other nationalities that were sheltering there. Every car has seven to eight people in it,” Hacioglu, who is helping to coordinate the evacuation, told Al Jazeera.
As of Thursday afternoon, the convoy had not yet passed the city of Tokmak, about 175km (109 miles) away. Hacioglu said they were headed for Uman, central Ukraine, where they will stay for one night, and the Turkish consulate is arranging everything.
Tokmak is one of six cities in the region that have been occupied by Russian troops.
“Russian troops are harassing them. Last night, they stopped vehicles just before Tokmak. They didn’t let people get out of their cars and the women and children froze all night,” Hacioglu said.
“Even though some women asked to go out to go to the toilet, they told them to open the door and just do it right there.”
Hacioglu’s wife, son and cousin were among those who evacuated, as well as the mosque’s imam, Mehmet Yuce. Hacioglu said he gets 200 desperate calls a day from people desperate to find news of their relatives.
Fears for the safety of Mariupol’s remaining Turkish residents rose after the Ukrainian foreign ministry announced last week that the mosque had been hit as fighting intensified in the city centre, but Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a day later that it remained intact.
There are believed to be 34 children among the Turkish mosque group, although it is yet unclear how many of them have left the city.
According to council figures released via their official Telegram channel on Thursday, 6,500 private cars carrying an estimated 30,000 people have managed to leave Mariupol so far this week.
The city has no electricity, gas or water supply and remains under heavy and sustained attack from Russian weaponry.
Mayor Vadym Boychenko described the situation as “critical”, with 80 percent of the city’s housing damaged. Food supplies are low and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned of a shortage of medicines for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer.
The evacuation comes after more than a week of failed attempts to secure safe passage out from the city for civilians, with previous attempts stalling after Russia continued its bombardment.
It is feared that between 200,000 and 300,000 people could still be trapped in the city.
Aside from the 30 Turks who remain in the mosque, another 100 are thought to remain in Mariupol as a whole, unable to be contacted due to a near full communications blackout.