Bulgarian-Ukrainian crew evacuated from Mariupol

Fourteen Bulgarian sailors and one Ukrainian evacuated from a ship stranded in embattled Mariupol arrived in the Bulgarian city of Varna on Monday, authorities said.

The crew of the Tzarevna arrived in Russia on a flight from Sochi and were greeted by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska. However, three Bulgarians and two Ukrainians decided to stay on the ship.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, the ship has been stranded in Mariupol, one of the cities hardest hit by the war.

Evacuation plans were delayed because mines may have been laid near the coast off Mariupol, which was bombed and fiercely fought by Russian forces.

In a statement on April 11, the Tzarevna’s captain, Pavel Pavlov, said the ship had not been seized by either Ukrainian or Russian forces and dismissed claims by Russian media that the Azov Battalion of the Ukrainian army was in control of the ship took over the ship.

“We were mainly in the underwater zone of the ship so that we were safe from the attacks in the area,” Pavlov said.

In another comment to Bulgarian media on April 17, Pavlov also said that despite restricted access to the internet and other means of communication, the seafarers have been in contact with a Bulgarian government official since March 13.

However, the establishment of a safe corridor for evacuation began when a crew member single-handedly decided to approach nearby Russian troops, who gave the sailors an hour to leave.

On April 17, the Russian news agency TASS and the Russian embassy in Sofia reported that people on the ship were accommodated in hotels and provided with food, and accused the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry of not responding to requests for clarification on the situation.

To date, the crew of the Tzarevna has not commented on how they have been treated by the Russian authorities in the past few days.

The ship, a bulk carrier, flies the Maltese flag and is owned by Navibulgar, a Varna-registered company.

Another ship carrying Bulgarian sailors, the Rozhen, is currently near the Ukrainian port of Odessa, but there is little information as to whether the crew may also be evacuated.

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