AROUND 100 civilians escaped the Azovstal “Alamo” yesterday in an evacuation from blitzed port city Mariupol.
A local ceasefire allowed them to flee the sprawling steel plant where diehard bands of Ukrainian soldiers have made a desperate last stand against the Russian invaders.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the mercy mission had started after weeks of crushing false starts.
The UN and Red Cross-backed rescue raised hopes for thousands of others trapped in tunnels and bunkers in the last part of the ruined city still in Ukrainian hands.
Mr Zelensky said: “The evacuation of civilians from Azovstal began.
“The first group of about 100 people is already heading to the controlled area. Tomorrow we will meet them in Zaporizhzhia.”
But hundreds of wounded soldiers are rotting with gangrene — still underground and without access to painkillers.
The breakthrough came as details emerged of a ninth Russian general killed in Ukraine.
Major-General Andrei Simonov, 55, an electronics warfare expert, reportedly died in a command post blitzed by Ukrainian rockets.
The Kremlin’s top commander, General Valery Gerasimov, was also reportedly hurt in the same devastating strike in Izyum, in Kharkiv province.
Kyiv’s former interior minister Arsen Avakov said Gerasimov suffered a flesh wound yesterday, with sources suggesting his “legs and hips are damaged”.
It was also said that three of his entourage had been killed.
As Chief of the Russian General Staff, Gerasimov had been sent by Vladimir Putin to take personal control of the tyrant’s push to grab territory in eastern Ukraine.
Footage shared on social media appears to show the strike from a rocket salvo.
The attack also reportedly destroyed more than 30 Russian armoured vehicles, including tanks.
An unofficial Russian source reported Gerasimov suffered “a shrapnel wound in the upper third of the right leg without a bone fracture”.
If true, his wounding is another deep psychological blow to Putin and his faltering war campaign. Gerasimov had swooped into occupied Izyum — now a major staging post — to take charge of the battle for the eastern Donbas region.
The dreaded second-wave onslaught looks to have failed to achieve its objectives of conquering Donetsk and Luhansk in time for Putin’s May 9 Victory Day parade.
After suffering a “sharp injury” in the bombardment, Gerasimov was later spotted at Belgorod, 20 miles inside Russia, where he landed on a helicopter and left on a military plane. A witness said he walked onboard the plane unaided.
If it is confirmed the command post was hit as Gerasimov visited, it would be a major coup for western intelligence partners, as well as Ukraine’s armed forces.
Western sources briefed Ukraine on almost every detail of Putin’s invasion and gaps were revealed by Russian soldiers who discussed key objectives on open telephone lines.
Ukraine continued to hit Russian soil yesterday with a strike on an ammunition dump. Thick plumes of smoke were spotted over the base in Belgorod.
Russia said that it had hit back with missile strikes on a disused airport in Odesa.
Moscow said it launched “high precision Onyx missiles” at a hangar full of “weapons and ammunition delivered from the United States and European countries”.
Russia also claimed to have hit two S-300 air defence systems, which are key to intercepting missiles and planes.
Earlier, strikes on Russian soil were confirmed with satellite photos which showed devastated fuel depots in the city of Bryansk.
Meanwhile, the UK’s ambassador to Ukraine says she feels “comfortable” returning to Kyiv despite Russian threats against diplomats in the Ukrainian capital.
Melinda Simmons arrived on Friday, following the announcement last month that Britain would be reopening its embassy in the city in a show of support for Ukraine’s fight against the invasion.
Her return comes after Moscow threatened a “proportional response” against the UK for backing Ukrainian strikes behind Russian lines, hinting at possible strikes at British sites in Kyiv.
PM Boris Johnson had said staff would begin returning thanks to Ukraine repelling Moscow’s troops from around the city.