There were high expectations that evacuees from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol would finally arrive at a processing center in Zaporizhzhia, central Ukraine, on Monday, after a long and tortuous journey.
Since then, however, the center based in a parking lot seems to contain more members of the media than families who have managed to flee.
The evacuees from Azovstal are now expected to arrive en masse later today.
For now, neatly organized rows of red-and-white plastic tape and wooden crates dictate where vehicles should enter to be registered and processed, while medical staff are on standby in a large white tent to coordinate the food, clothes and toys awaiting evacuees.
Families from villages south of Zaporizhzhia, near Mariupol and other regions in Ukraine have slowly trickled into the center. Some were weary from days of trying to reach Ukrainian-held territory. Others became teary eyed when seeing their loved ones.
Natasha told CNN she got lucky. Her family evacuated from Dniprorudne — a small city north of Melitopol — at around 6 a.m. on Monday. “There is a huge convoy of about 50 vehicles but they got stuck in Vasilivka. The Russians didn’t let them go,” she said.
The Russians said they have no orders to let people through, according to another evacuee Julia. Julia left on Monday morning and made it to Zaporizhzhia, although her boyfriend is still on the road. He left on Saturday.
“He’ll probably go back if the Russians don’t let them pass,” she said. “But for now, locals gave him a place to stay.”
Some background: The standoff between Russian and Ukrainian forces at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukraine’s unwavering resistance in the face of an enemy that far outnumbers them.
On Sunday, more than 100 civilians were evacuated from the sprawling industrial complex, which has been under heavy Russian bombardment. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Sunday evening that for the first time, the vital corridor to evacuate civilians from the plant had started working, paving the way for them to pass through.
Those evacuated Sunday emerged from the plant to rubble-strewn streets and unrecognizable neighborhoods in bombed-out Mariupol.
This was short-lived, however, as Russian shelling once again intensified and put a halt to further rescue efforts, the commander of the 12th brigade of the National Guard Denis Schlegar said.
A further 100 people are thought to remain at the plant, including 20 children, the deputy commander of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment, Svyatoslav Palamar, told Reuters on Monday.
CNN’s Bernadette Tuazon, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Isa Soares, Madalena Araujo and Oleksandra Ochman contributed reporting to this post.