The Ukrainian government sent 45 buses on Thursday to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol, where Russia’s defense ministry has announced a local ceasefire, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
“Tonight, we received a message from the International Committee of the Red Cross that the Russian Federation confirmed its readiness to open access for humanitarian convoys to the city of Mariupol by transit through the city of Berdiansk,” he said in a video posted on Telegram.
“We sent 45 buses to the Mariupol corridor”.
Seventeen buses have already left for Mariupol from Zaporizhzhia, about 220 kilometers (136 miles) to the northwest, he said.
Another 28 are awaiting permission to pass the Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka, near Zaporizhzhia.
“We will do everything possible to make sure the bus arrives in Mariupol today and pick up people who have not yet been able to get out of the city,” Vereschuk said.
So far, with the agreement on centralized evacuation not respected, the public can only leave Mariupol with their own cars, which is very dangerous.
The strategic southern port city has been besieged and shelled by Russian troops since late February.
People who have managed to escape and NGOs have described the situation there as catastrophic, with civilians trapped in basements, lack of water, food and communication and with corpses littered in the streets.
Late Wednesday, Russia’s defense ministry said that a humanitarian corridor would be opened from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, via the Russian -controlled port of Berdiansk, starting at 10:00 a.m. (0700 GMT) on Thursday.
“For this humanitarian operation to be successful, we propose to implement it with the direct participation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the ministry statement said.
The Russian ministry asked Kyiv to guarantee “unconditional respect” for the ceasefire through written notification to the Russian side, UNHCR and ICRC before 6:00 am (0300 GMT) Thursday.
Moscow also asked the Ukrainian army to be committed to ensuring the safety of bus convoys along the designated corridors.
Deputy Prime Minister Vereschuk said that the Ukrainian army has “confirmed they will guarantee a ceasefire”.
Two more evacuation corridors were agreed on Thursday, from Melitopol to Zaporizhzhia and from Energodar, where Ukraine’s largest nuclear plant is located, also to Zaporizhzhia.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)