Fresh efforts by Ukraine to rescue civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol were hampered after Russian forces allegedly blocked buses and stole humanitarian aid, but The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was hopeful evacuations would still begin on Friday.
Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian soldiers blocked a convoy of 45 buses that had headed towards Mariupol on Thursday to evacuate people after Moscow had agreed to a limited cease-fire and to open a humanitarian corridor.
“The Russian Federation, again, does not let our buses pass,” Ms Vereshchuk said, adding that buses were stopped outside Berdyansk, about 75km to the west of Mariupol.
Only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars, she added.
Ms Vereshchuk also accused Russian soldiers of seizing 12 Ukrainian trucks that were delivering humanitarian supplies to Mariupol.
The Russian military allegedly stole about 14 tons of humanitarian aid, according to the Kyiv Independent.
The ICRC, which had initially intended to lead the convoy of 45 buses, told The Independent on Friday morning they were making their own attempt to get aid into the besieged coastal town, with the additional aim of securing safe passage for civilians still trapped there.
ICRC spokesperson Lucile Marbeau said that they were on their way to the coast with two additional trucks of supplies.
She said the trucks contained basic medical aid from painkillers to antibiotics for up 2000 people for three months, as well as food and hygiene items alongside war wounded kits to treat up 100 people with serious injuries.
The ICRC had hoped a humanitarian corridor brokered between the Ukrainians and Russians would allow the group to lead a convoy of dozens of buses to rescue some of the estimated 170,000 civilians still trapped under some of the heaviest Russian bombardment in the war. But The Independent understands there were logistical problems, hampering those efforts.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Telegram groups meanwhile reported that 42 buses of people who had fled Mariupol but become stranded in the nearby city of Berdyansk were now on their way on Zaporizhzhia, escorted by the Ukrainian Red Cross. When asked for comment, the Ukrainian Red Cross declined to comment.
An aide to the mayor of Mariupol said earlier on Friday that the city remained closed for anyone trying to enter and was “very dangerous” for anyone trying to leave.
Petro Andryushchenko said Russian forces had since Thursday been preventing even the smallest amount of humanitarian supplies reaching trapped residents, making clear the planned humanitarian corridor had not been opened.
“The city remains closed to entry and very dangerous to exit with personal transport,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.
“In addition, since yesterday the occupiers have categorically not allowed any humanitarian aid - even in small quantities - into the city.”
Before the relief efforts began, Ms Vereshchuk said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had confirmed that the Russian Federation was ready to open access for the humanitarian convoy to the city of Mariupol.
The ICRC had said that “the lives of tens of thousands of people in Mariupol depend on it”.
The city has suffered some of the worst impacts of war and was described as “worse than hell” by those who escaped in their own cars or on foot under shelling.
About 170,000 people are thought to still be stranded in the strategic city, which has been under bombardment for weeks. There were about 430,000 people in the city before the war but the numbers have been reduced following multiple evacuation efforts. Many have also died in attacks on a maternity hospital, fire departments, and civilian homes in the past few weeks.
The city, which is now mostly destroyed, has been cut off from supplies such as water, electricity, mobile network, heating system, and food since a few weeks into the war in March. People have been reduced to tapping their radiators for water, melting snow, drinking rainwater, or running through shelling to get to springs.
Meanwhile, Russian forces left the heavily contaminated Chernobyl nuclear site on Friday morning after soldiers received “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches in the forest.
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered.
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