Turkey has proposed conducting an evacuation of wounded Ukrainian soldiers stranded in the southern port city of Mariupol, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman confirmed.
In an interview with the news agency Reuters, Turkey's presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin confirmed that he himself had discussed the plan to evacuate the wounded Ukrainian soldiers from Mariupol with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv two weeks ago.
Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol, which is now under Russia's control after weeks of siege and bombardment, continue to resist the Russian advance by holding out in the city's Azovstal steel plant.
The Turkish proposal is to evacuate the soldiers from the steel works, take them by land to the other nearby port of Berdyansk, and place them on a Turkish ship which would transport them across the Black Sea to Istanbul. There, Ankara reportedly pledged, the soldiers would remain until the end of the war.
"If it can be done that way, we are happy to do it. We are ready", Kalin said. "In fact, our ship is ready to go and bring the injured soldiers and other civilians to Turkey."
The primary obstacle to that plan is Russia's refusal for it to go ahead. However, that stance may shift as the Russian position "changes day to day," Kalin said. "They look at the security situation on the ground and other dynamics, their negotiations, their own internal coordination. So sometimes it is hard to get a firm response [or] commitment from either side."
The presidential spokesman reiterated that "The boat is still in Istanbul. It is ready to sail but we are waiting for final clearance from Russian and Ukrainian side for it to go to Berdyansk and bring those injured soldiers to Turkey."
Throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing conflict, Turkey has positioned itself as a mediator between the Kyiv and Moscow, facilitating negotiations and seemingly almost bringing them on a track to a peace process several times. Ankara's proposal to rescue the wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the steel plant is seen as its latest attempt to mediate.
The proposal also comes amid calls by many of the stranded soldiers for the international community to provide a rescue solution, with some calling upon Turkey for help while others call upon countries such as Israel.