Russia and Ukraine agreed to a temporary ceasefire in the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha so that civilians can leave safely.
The ceasefire was expected to begin at 10 am Moscow time Saturday and will last five hours.
Moscow made calls to evacuate on Thursday, but residents of the two cities were afraid to do so because shelling was continuous, BBC reported.
Mariupol is a key target for Moscow and continues to be under siege. Seizing the city would allow Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine to join forces with troops in Crimea that has been annexed by Russia in 2014.
Five hours to evacuate
The two sides agreed to a 5-hour ceasefire in Mariupol, a limited time to evacuate all civilians in a city of over 400,000.
The Mariupol city council said in a statement that civilians would be able to head to Zaporizhzhia, 220km northwest, using either chartered buses or their own vehicles.
Russia’ Ministry of Defense defined the humanitarian corridors and exit points have been established in agreement with the Ukrainian authorities.
According to the BBC report, deputy Mariupol mayor Serhiy Orlov said the whole city is without power, water and telecommunication lines are cut.
Mykhaylo Podoliak, an advisor to the Ukrainian Presidential Office who took part in the negotiations with the Russian side, wrote on Twitter:
“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.”
In Mariupol and Volnovakha, humanitarian evacuation corridors are being prepared for opening, columns are being formed from those who are subject to evacuation. The parties temporarily ceased fire in the area of the corridors…
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) March 5, 2022
Russia fails to observe, Ukraine says
However, shortly after evacuation was set to begin, Mariupol’s city council said that Russian forces continued shelling the city and surrounding areas.
The city council posted on Telegram that the Russians did not observe the ceasefire and Mariupol residents were asked to disperse and move to the places of shelter because negotiations were ongoing to ensure a safe route out of the city.
Russia’s defense ministry, on the other hand, said no one had made use of the corridors and accused Ukrainian “nationalists” of preventing civilians from leaving, the RIA state news agency reported.
The Greeks of Mariupol
On Friday, a Greek convoy of approximately 30 vehicles evacuated before the ceasefire in Mariupol.
Diplomats, Greek expatriates and reporters left the Greek-founded city in southeastern Ukraine and reached safety, according to the Foreign Ministry of Greece.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias announced the arrival of the convoy in Moldova in a Tweet on Friday.
Zelenskyy blames NATO for rejecting Ukrainian no-fly zone
Before the ceasefire in Mariupol development, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy slammed NATO for its decision not to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
“Knowing that new strikes and casualties are inevitable, NATO deliberately decided not to close the sky over Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said in a video published by the presidency.
The Ukrainian president had previously asked for a direct involvement of the Alliance, calling the NATO gathering a “weak summit, a confused summit.”
According to a Deutsche Welle report, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg replied to Zelenskyy’s criticism:
“We understand the desperation but we also believe that if we did that (establishing a no-fly zone) we would end up with something that could lead to a fully-fledged war in Europe, involving many more countries.”
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