Russia, Ukraine agree to ceasefire to evacuate 2 cities, but officials say attacks are ongoing
Russia and Ukraine have agreed to a temporary ceasefire in Ukraine to allow civilians to leave the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha, however officials in Mariupol said the ceasefire was not being honored.
The fighting was due to stop at 10 a.m. Moscow time (2 a.m. ET) Saturday.
However, Mariupol City Council said at 12.40 p.m. local time that shelling by Russian forces continued, and postponed its evacuation of residents.
“Due to the fact that the Russian side does not adhere to the ceasefire and continued shelling both Mariupol and its environs, for security reasons, THE EVACUATION OF THE POPULATION IS POSTPONED,” the council said on Telegram. It told residents to return to a place of safety.
“Negotiations are currently underway with the Russian Federation to establish a regime of silence and ensure a secure humanitarian corridor.”
It comes after Orlov Sergei, deputy mayor of Mariupol City Council, told the BBC that shelling in the city was continuing, along with fighting along the proposed evacuation route.
The council had expected the ceasefire to last from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. local time and was planning to evacuate residents to Zaporizhzhia, a city to the west, on municipal buses.
“We decided to move our citizens back because it’s not safe to be on the streets,” Sergei added.
Earlier, a Ukrainian official tweeted that “humanitarian corridors” were being prepared.
“In Mariupol and Volnovakha, evacuation humanitarian corridors are being prepared for opening, and columns of those to be evacuated are being formed. The parties temporarily ceased fire in the area of corridors,” Mykhailo Podoliak, an advisor to the Ukrainian Presidential Office who took part in negotiations with Russian officials this week, said on Twitter.
However, the Russian Defense Ministry — in the same statement that outlined details of the ceasefire — said that its “offensive operations” continued elsewhere in the country.
Many of Ukraine’s major cities, including the capital Kyiv, remain under attack from Russian forces invading from the north, east and south. However, a huge column of Russian military vehicles on its way to Kyiv appears to have stalled in recent days, amid unconfirmed reports of logistical problems and food and fuel shortages.
Mariupol and Volnovakha
Mariupol and Volnovakha have born the brunt of some of the most intense fighting in Ukraine over recent days.
Their location — in Ukraine’s extreme southeast corner, near the Russian border and Crimea — makes them strategic targets for the Moscow. If they fell to Russia, its troops could join forces with those in Crimea, a peninsula Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Mariupol is a port city, on the Sea of Azov.
Both cities are within Donetsk, one of two Ukrainian regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government recognized as independent just before his troops invaded Ukraine.
On Thursday, the BBC reported that Moscow had encouraged residents of Mariupol to begin leaving the city, but residents said they could not move because there had been no break in the shelling.
The situation on the ground in Ukraine is extremely volatile, and individual accounts are difficult or impossible to verify.