Wives of Mariupol soldiers dispersed by police at Kyiv protest

Wives of Ukrainian soldiers under siege in Mariupol who gathered in Kyiv to demand the evacuation of their husbands have been dispersed by police who gave army conscription notices to men who joined the protest.

About 50 people had defied a government ban on Friday morning to take part in a protest on the Ukrainian capital’s independence square where they called for negotiations with the Russians over the soldiers’ fate.

The UN has opened a fresh attempt to rescue the remaining 200 civilians trapped in the Russian-besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, which the UN secretary general has described as a series of “hellscapes”.

However, the negotiations with the Russian military have not included the fate of about 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers fighting at the sprawling works, leading to a series of protests in recent days by their relatives.

Police officers ordered the women at the latest protest to leave the square as the event had not been authorised and gave conscription orders to a number of men.

Yulia Girdvilis, the head of the communication department of Kyiv police, said: “There were no arrests. There were police officers at the event who explained that during the martial law mass events are not allowed and people dispersed on their own. There were military commissars present at the event who had the authority to check men’s documents. Some of the men in their 30s were taken to the draft boards [conscription offices] for further investigations.”

Maria, 32, a representative of wives and relatives of the soldiers, whose own partner, Artem, 29, was killed last week during the fighting, said they were all in a state of turmoil.

She said: “I am representing not only Azov regiment relatives but all of the military. We have a right to be explained. We are not against the government, they gathered there just to fight for their families’ rights. They are in a very difficult mental condition. It’s even hard to find out who’s alive who isn’t. We are just representing our families’ interests. That’s all.”

She said a number of the protesters had posed for photographers but had been told by police not to show posters referring to Mariupol.

“The girls asked the police could we be photographed and they said: ‘Yes just take your “save Mariupol” posters away,’” she said. “We think it’s wrong because we just want some representative from the authorities to come out and give us some explanations. What’s happening? Just let us know that they didn’t forget about our soldiers that they are doing something.”

The protest had been formally cancelled by organisers after permission was withheld at the last minute, it is understood.

The Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said people would be evacuated from Mariupol at midday local time on Friday.

The UN and the Red Cross said they had so far helped nearly 500 civilians flee the steelworks area in the southern port city during two operations in the past week.