Ceasefire ends: Mariupol evacuation halted for second time as Russia 'shells civilians'

6 March 2022, 09:39 | Updated: 6 March 2022, 14:20

People flee Ukraine as the Russian invasion continues. Inset: A destroyed bridge in the city of Irpin
People flee Ukraine as the Russian invasion continues. Inset: A destroyed bridge in the city of Irpin. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol has been halted for the second day in a row, with Ukraine and Russia blaming each other for the failed attempt.

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Interior ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said the planned evacuations along designated humanitarian corridors were halted because of an ongoing assault.

"There can be no 'green corridors' because only the sick brain of the Russians decides when to start shooting and at whom," he said on Telegram.

The City Council of Mariupol said it was postponed after Russians "began to regroup their forces and continued heavy shelling" areas that were meant to be safe.

However, Russian authorities accused Ukraine of failing to observe the limited ceasefire.

It comes after Russia failed to observe a ceasefire on Saturday, amid more shelling and aerial bombardment by Russian forces.

A temporary ceasefire was planned to be observed from 12pm (10am GMT) on Sunday to 9pm local time (7pm GMT).

Eduard Basurin, head of the military in the separatist-held Donetsk territory, initially made the announcement but did not give any details on how long the corridors would remain open, nor whether there would be a ceasefire to facilitate the evacuation of the two cities.

Russia previously agreed on evacuation routes with Ukrainian forces on Saturday. However, local officials said within hours of the ceasefire that "fighting was taking place" in the Zaporizhzhia region, with Mariupol city council adding: "We are negotiating with the Russian side to confirm the ceasefire along the entire evacuation route."

Mariupol city council said the attempted evacuation had been put on pause due to "the fact that the Russian side does not adhere to the regime of silence and continued shelling of both Mariupol itself" and the surrounding area.

They asked people to disperse and find places of shelter.

Read more: 'By God's grace we avoided nuclear catastrophe': Russian power plant attack condemned

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In a security update on Saturday afternoon, the Ministry of Defence said the proposed ceasefire was likely an attempt from Russia to reset troops for a new offense.

The MoD said: "Russia's proposed ceasefire in Mariupol was likely an attempt to deflect international condemnation while resetting its forces for renewed offensive activity.

"By accusing Ukraine of breaking the agreement, Russia is likely seeking to shift responsibility casualties in the city."

Meanwhile, Russia's defence ministry accused Ukrainian "nationalists" of preventing the movement, according to Russia's RIA news agency.

The ministry said Russian forces were attacked after agreeing the humanitarian corridor towards Zaporizhzhia.

Read more: Government tells Brits to leave Russia as Ukraine crisis escalates

The move was first announced by Russian state media on Saturday before being confirmed by Ukraine - making it the first breakthrough in allowing civilians to escape the war.

Mariupol city council confirmed that the evacuation began at 11am local time (9am GMT) and would last until 4pm (2pm GMT).

Civilians will evacuate in buses from three locations as well as it being "possible to leave the city by private transport", in a convoy led by the Red Cross, though drivers have been urged to "contribute as much as possible" to the evacuation by taking people with them.

Mariupol city council stressed it is "strictly prohibited" to deviate from the route of the humanitarian corridor, adding there will be "several stages of evacuation over several days".

It comes after Mariupol's mayor, Vadim Boychenko, appealed for a humanitarian corridor on Friday night after another day of "ruthless attacks" by Russian troops.

Following the announcement, Mr Boichenko released a statement saying: "Dear, dear residents of Mariupol, from today the evacuation of the civilian population begins in the city. 

"This is not an easy decision, but, as I have always said, Mariupol is not streets and houses. Mariupol is its inhabitants, it is you and me. 

"Our main task has always been and remains to protect people. 

"In conditions when our hometown is constantly under ruthless fire from the occupiers, there is no other solution than to enable residents, that is, you and me, to leave Mariupol safely."

The head of Ukraine's security council, Oleksiy Danilov, also called on Russia to create humanitarian corridors for children, women and the elderly to escape the fighting, calling such corridors "question No 1".

The city is said to have been without power and water in recent days, as Russia targeted civilian infrastructure and residential districts.

However, Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun told LBC on Saturday morning: "We are concerned that they will put children into buses and then start bombing the buses with children."

"They did that before," she claimed. "They were shooting at buses with children. So a humanitarian corridor sounds good but we can't really trust them."

In Saturday's update from the UK's Ministry of Defence, it said Mariupol was among the cities that Ukraine had managed to hold in the last 24 hours.

A statement on Twitter said: "The overall rate of Russian air and artillery strikes observed over the past 24 hours have been lower than in previous days.

"Ukraine continues to hold the key cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol. There have bee reports of street fighting in Sumy. It is highly likely that all four cities are encircled by Russian forces.

"Russian forces are probably advancing on the southern port city of Mykolaiv. There is a realistic possibility that some forces will attempt to circumvent to prioritise progression towards Odesa."

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian defence minister confirmed on Saturday morning that a total of 66,224 Ukrainian men had retuned home to fight.

Oleksii Reznikov tweeted: "That's how many men returned from abroad at this moment to defend their country from the horde.

"These are 12 more combat and motivated brigades! 

"Ukrainians, we are invincible."

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