The Ukrainian government is sending 45 buses on Thursday to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol, where the Russian Defense Ministry has announced a local ceasefire, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
“This evening, we received a message from the International Committee of the Red Cross indicating that the Russian Federation confirms its willingness to open access for the humanitarian convoy to the city of Mariupol with transit through the city of Berdyansk”, said she said in a video posted on Telegram.
“We are sending 45 buses to the Mariupol corridor”.
Seventeen buses had already left for Mariupol from Zaporizhzhia, about 220 kilometers northwest, she said.
Twenty-eight others were waiting for permission to pass the Russian checkpoint at Vasylivka, near Zaporizhzhia.
“We will do everything we can to get buses to Mariupol today and pick up people who haven’t been able to get out of town yet,” Vereschuk said.
Until now, agreements on centralized evacuations have not been respected, civilians have only been able to leave Mariupol with their own cars, which is extremely dangerous.
The strategic southern port city has been surrounded and shelled by Russian forces since late February.
Those who managed to flee and NGOs described conditions there as dire, with civilians locked in cellars, deprived of water, food and communication, and with dead bodies littering the streets.
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On Wednesday evening, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that a humanitarian corridor would be opened from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, via the Russian-controlled port of Berdyansk, from 10:00 a.m. Thursday.
“For this humanitarian operation to succeed, we propose to carry it out with the direct participation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the ministry statement said.
The Russian ministry has asked Kyiv to guarantee “unconditional respect” for the ceasefire with a written notification to the Russian side, the UNHCR and the ICRC by 6 a.m. Thursday.
Moscow has also asked the Ukrainian army to commit to providing security for bus convoys along the designated corridor.
Deputy Prime Minister Vereschuk said Ukrainian forces had “confirmed that they would guarantee the ceasefire”.
Two more evacuation corridors have been agreed for Thursday, from Melitopol to Zaporizhzhia and from Energodar, where Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant is located, also in Zaporizhzhia.