Turkey has asked Russia to help evacuate Turkish citizens stranded in the besieged city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine, Agence France-Presse reported, citing Ankara’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Sunday.
“As we have spoken with him (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov), we asked for this support for the evacuation of our citizens from Mariupol,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Ukraine said on Saturday that the city’s mosque — where around 80 civilians including several Turkish citizens were sheltering — had been fired at by Russian forces surrounding Mariupol.
Çavuşoğlu’s comments are the first official reaction to the incident from Ankara.
The foreign minister said that the mosque’s imam “didn’t confirm” the reports.
“He said rockets and missiles had been fired on the area.”
The port of Mariupol in particular has been under siege for days and is facing what Ukraine says is a “humanitarian catastrophe,” with more than 1,500 civilians killed over 12 days.
A local Turkish community official had denied on Saturday that the mosque had been targeted by the Russians.
Çavuşoğlu said that the Turkish authorities had “lost contact” with the Turkish citizens in Mariupol “after the whole infrastructures collapsed”
Ankara had shared the information with Russia and also “sent our buses to the region, but the buses are not able to go inside the city,” the minister continued.
It is the first time that Ankara has confirmed that Turkish citizens were present in the mosque, but it gave no numbers.
“We support the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but we have to work with both actors for humanitarian purposes,” Çavuşoğlu said.