LVIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Safe corridors intended to let Ukrainian civilians escape the Russian onslaught could open, Kremlin officials said, though Ukrainian leaders were sceptical since prior efforts to establish evacuation routes crumbled amid renewed attacks.
In one of the most desperate cities, the encircled southern port of Mariupol, an estimated 200,000 people – nearly half the population of 430,000 – were hoping to flee, and Red Cross officials waited to hear when a corridor would be established.
Russia’s coordination centre for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine said Russia will begin a cease-fire at 10am Moscow time (0700 GMT) to allow civilians to flee through special corridors agreed upon with Ukrainian authorities, according to Russian media. Most of those corridors would lead to Russia, either directly or through Belarus, though people in Kharkiv would be allowed to travel to western Ukraine, the centre said.
But doubts abounded, fuelled by the failure of previous attempts to lead civilians to safety amid the biggest ground war in Europe since World War II. The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would not comment on the latest Russian proposal, saying only that Moscow’s plans can be believed only if a safe evacuation begins. Demands for effective passageways have surged amid intensifying shelling by Russian forces. Efforts to set up safe passage for civilians over the weekend fell apart amid continued Russian shelling.
Russia’s plan announced on Monday allowing civilians to leave Kyiv, Mariupol, Kharkiv and Sumy would have used routes toward Russia or its ally Belarus, which was a launch pad for the invasion. Ukraine instead proposed eight routes allowing civilians to travel to western regions of the country where there is no shelling.
Later, Russia’s United Nations (UN) Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told the UN Security Council that Russia would carry out a cease-fire and made the suggestion that humanitarian corridors leading away from Kyiv, Mariupol, Sumy and Chernigov could let people choose where they want to seek safety.
The UN Humanitarian Chief, Undersecretary-General Martin Griffiths, addressed the Security Council and urged safe passage for people to go “in the direction they choose”.
The UN human rights office reported 406 confirmed civilian deaths but said the real number is much higher. The invasion has also sent 1.7 million people fleeing Ukraine.