Russia opens humanitarian corridor for civilians from Mariupol’s Azovstal plant
Russian and Donbass forces will observe a ceasefire around the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol starting from 2pm Moscow time on Monday, allowing civilians to evacuate to safety, the Russian Defense Ministry has said.
Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of Russia’s National Defense Management Center, said that armed units will “withdraw to a safe distance and maintain the exit of civilians from the said area in any direction they choose.”
Russian and Donbass troops mainly control the city, but a number of Ukrainian soldiers have been holed up in Azovstal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, however, claimed last week that roughly 1,000 civilians remained in the mill as well.
Mizintsev said there were “no obstacles” for civilians to leave the Azovstal plant, other than “the decision of Kiev and the commanders of nationalist units to use civilians as a human shield.”
Russia previously offered the Ukrainian fighters the opportunity to lay down their arms and surrender, but they refused.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called off the assault on the mill, opting for a blockade instead.
According to Mizintsev, a safe passage from Azovstal has remained open since March 21. However, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk accused Russia on Sunday of failing to guarantee a ceasefire in the area.
Mizintsev said that Russia would notify Vereshchuk on the matter. According to the MOD, information about the ceasefire and safe passage will be transmitted to the Ukrainians by radio every 30 minutes.
Vereshchuk offered mixed messages on the new attempt at opening a humanitarian corridor. While she first told local media that Kiev was ready to do “everything” to make it work, shortly after she said the corridor was not set up properly and did not work.
“It is important to understand that the humanitarian corridor is opened by agreement of both parties. The corridor, announced unilaterally, does not provide security, and therefore, in fact, is not a humanitarian corridor,” Vereshchuk said in a Telegram statement. “I declare officially and publicly: unfortunately, there are no agreements on humanitarian corridors from Azovstal today.”
The battle for Mariupol has been raging for nearly two months, as Russian and Donbass forces completely surrounded the city.
Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.