Trembling in the labyrinth of Soviet-era bunkers beneath the vast Azovstal steel mills, Natalia Usmanova felt her heart would stop when Russian bombs rained on Mariupol, spraying her with cement dust.
Usmanova, 37, spoke Sunday after it was evacuated from the factory, a sprawling complex founded under Joseph Stalin and designed with a subterranean network of bunkers and tunnels to withstand attacks.
“I was afraid that the bunker would not hold – I had a terrible fear,” Usmanova said, describing the time I was sheltering underground.
“When the bunker started shaking, I was in hysterics, my husband can attest to that. I was very worried that the bunker would collapse.”
She remembers the lack of oxygen in the shelters and the fear that controls the lives of the people holed up there.
“We haven’t seen the sun for long,” said a spokeswoman in the village of Bizimeni in the Russian-backed separatist-held Donetsk region, about 30 km (30 miles) east of Mariupol.
Usmanova was among dozens of civilians evacuated from the factory in Mariupol, a southern port city that Russian forces besieged for weeks and left a wasteland.
While on the bus, in a convoy approved by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, she joked with her husband that they would not have to go to the toilet with the torch.
“You can’t imagine what we went through – the horror,” Usmanova said. “I lived there, worked there my whole life, but what we saw there was terrible.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that about 100 civilians, most of them women and children The factory is expected to arrive in Ukraine-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Monday.
“For the first time in all the days of the war, this absolutely necessary (humanitarian) corridor has started to function,” he said in a letter posted on Telegram. He said he hoped the evacuations would continue on Monday.
People fleeing Russian-occupied areas in the past described their cars as coming under fire, and Ukrainian officials repeatedly accused Russian forces of bombing evacuation routes agreed upon by the two sides.
As many as 100,000 people may still be in besieged Mariupol, including up to 1,000 civilians fortified with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters under the Soviet-era steel mill – the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.
Mariupol was a major target of Vladimir Putin due to its strategic location near the Crimea, from which Russia had captured it. Ukraine in 2014.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report
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