UN council backs Ukraine statement

A man who left a steelworks in Mariupol walks to a bus
Ukraine says 50 civilians have been allowed to leave the steelworks in the city of Mariupol. -AP

The United Nations Security Council, including Russia, has expressed "deep concern regarding the maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine" and backed efforts by the UN chief to find a peaceful solution in the body's first statement since the Russian invasion.

Security Council statements are agreed by consensus. 

The brief text adopted on Friday was drafted by Norway and Mexico.

"The Security Council expresses deep concern regarding the maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine," it reads. 

"The Security Council recalls that all Member States have undertaken, under the Charter of the United Nations, the obligation to settle their international disputes by peaceful means."

"The Security Council expresses strong support for the efforts of the Secretary-General in the search for a peaceful solution," reads the statement, which also requests UN chief Antonio Guterres brief the council again "in due course".

Guterres welcomed the council support on Friday, saying he would "spare no effort to save lives, reduce suffering and find the path of peace".

Guterres met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv last week.

His visits paved the way for joint United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross operations that have allowed 500 civilians to leave Ukraine's port city of Mariupol and the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the past week.

The Security Council statement was agreed despite a diplomatic tit-for-tat that has been escalating since Russia launched on February 24 what it calls a "special military operation" and what Guterres blasted as Russia's "absurd war".

Russia vetoed a draft Security Council resolution on February 25 that would have deplored its invasion. 

China, the United Arab Emirates and India abstained from the vote. 

A council resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, Russia, China, France or the United Kingdom to pass.

The 193-member UN General Assembly, where no country has a veto, has since overwhelmingly adopted two resolutions, illustrating Russia's international isolation over Ukraine. 

Such resolutions are non-binding but they carry political weight.

The General Assembly has deplored Russia's "aggression against Ukraine," demanding both that Russian troops stop fighting and withdraw and that there be aid access and civilian protection. 

It also criticised Russia for creating a "dire" humanitarian situation.

Ukraine said just 50 civilians were allowed to leave a bombed-out steelworks in the city of Mariupol on Friday, accusing Russia of violating a truce intended to allow all those trapped beneath the plant to depart after weeks under siege.

Mariupol has endured the most destructive bombardment of the 10-week-old war, and the sprawling Soviet-era Azovstal plant is the last part of the city - a strategic southern port on the Azov Sea - still in the hands of Ukrainian fighters.

Ukrainian officials say Russia has stepped up attacks on Azovstal in the hope of seizing it by Monday, when the Kremlin will mark Russia's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

UN-brokered evacuations of some of the hundreds of civilians who had taken shelter in a network of tunnels and bunkers beneath the plant began last weekend before being halted by renewed fighting.

On Friday afternoon, 50 women, children and elderly people left the plant, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, adding that the operation would continue on Saturday. 

The Russian side constantly violated a local ceasefire, she said, making the process very slow.

Russia confirmed the number of people who had left and planned to continue evacuations on Saturday but did not comment on her accusation.

The city's mayor has estimated 200 people remained trapped at the plant with little food or water.

Mariupol authorities earlier said Russian forces had fired at a car that was involved in an attempt to evacuate the plant, killing one Ukrainian fighter and wounding six.

Russia had no immediate comment. 

It has previously said humanitarian corridors were in place.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the blockade of Mariupol as torture and said if the Russian forces killed civilians or troops who could otherwise be released, his government could no longer hold peace talks with Russia.