Russia pledges ceasefire to evacuate civilians from Mariupol steelworks
A unilateral Russian three-day ceasefire is due to come into effect on Thursday morning around the Mariupol steel plant, the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in this strategic port city, but fighting continues in the rest of Ukraine.
“The Russian armed forces will open a humanitarian corridor from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Moscow time (0700 to 1700 CET, 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. GMT) on 5, 6 and 7 May from the site of the Azovstal metallurgical plant to evacuate civilians,” the defence ministry said in a statement on Wednesday evening.
“During this period, the Russian armed forces and units of the Donetsk People’s Republic (unilaterally proclaimed by the pro-Russian separatists, editor’s note) will cease fire and hostilities unilaterally,” it continued, assuring that civilians who had taken refuge in the factory would be allowed to return to Russia or to territories controlled by Kyiv.
The statement appeared on the Telegram messaging app Wednesday and pledged the forces would refrain from military actions, withdraw to a safe distance and facilitate the withdrawal of the civilians to any destination they choose.
But there was no immediate confirmation of those arrangements from other sources and similar promises to set up evacuation corridors have collapsed, because of what the Ukrainians blamed on continued fighting by Russians. A United Nations spokesman said discussions about future evacuations were ongoing.
In his late night address, President Zelenskyy said Ukraine stood ready to ensure a ceasefire in Mariupol and appealed for help from the UN.
“It will take time simply to lift people out of those basements, out of those underground shelters. In the present conditions, we can not use heavy equipment to clear the rubble away. It all has to be done by hand,” Zelenskyy said.
(AFP, AP and Reuters)