Thousands of people have died in Mariupol since the city was subjected to a campaign of horrific bombardment by Russia, Volodymyr Zelensky has said.
Evacuation attempts are underway today to rescue some of the remaining 170,000 people still trapped in the besieged port city which is a site of ‘humanitarian catastrophe’, Zelesnsky said as civilians face no supplies, power or water.
Ukraine is sending 45 buses during a 24-hour ceasefire period which began at 7am GMT this morning, but there are fears it will be broken again after a number of failed attempts.
So far, 17 buses have already left from Zaporizhzhia, around 130 miles northwest of Mariupol, while another 28 are waiting to pass Russian checkpoints in Vasylivka.
Meanwhile new drone footage taken over the city shows the devastating trail of destruction wrought by Putin
New drone footage taken over the city shows the devastating trail of destruction wrought by Putin
Homes, administrative buildings and cultural landmarks have all been shelled in the brutal campaign
Thousands of people have died in Mariupol since the city was subjected to horrific bombardment
The city is now a ghost town as the trapped civilians stay in their shelters fearing Russian attacks
So far, 17 buses have already left from Zaporizhzhia, around 130 miles northwest of Mariupol
The drone footage shows a tank in the middle of a rubble-strewn street in the city blitzed by shelling
Most of the buildings have holes in the roofs after Russia unleashed its heavy bombardment
BEFORE: A satellite image shows home and buildings in Mariupol in June last year before the Russian invasion
AFTER: A photo taken on Tuesday shows the scale of devastation on the port city wrought by Putin’s army
Evacuees from Mariupol region arrive at reception centre in Zaporizhzhia today amid a Russian ceasefire
Children and elderly people were among those evacuated to safety today from the besieged port city
Today’s convoy hopes to rescue some of those trapped while delivering essential supplies for those still sheltering from the constant shelling and street fighting which has reduced the city to rubble.
Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said: ‘There are 45 buses en route to Mariupol.’
Teams from the Red Cross are also on their way to Mariupol with aid supplies, hoping to evacuate more civilians tomorrow.
Ewan Watson, ICRC spokesperson, said Ukraine and Russia must agree on the exact terms of the operation, which is planned for Friday, adding that ‘tens of thousands’ of lives depend on its success.
‘For logistics and security reasons, we’ll be ready to lead the safe passage operation tomorrow, Friday, provided all the parties agree to the exact terms, including the route, the start time, and the duration,’ Watson told Reuters in Geneva.
Despite hopes of a brief respite from the Russian onslaught, Putin has vowed to continue his destruction as soon as the ceasefire ends, saying he will only stop shelling Mariupol when it is surrendered.
The president made the comments during an hour-long phone call with Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday night, the Kremlin said.
Putin told Macron that ‘in order to resolve the difficult humanitarian situation in this city, Ukrainian nationalist militants must stop resisting and lay down their arms’, Russian officials said.
Nurse Svetlana Savchenko, 56, stands next to the building, destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict, where her apartment was located in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol
The city, which usually has a population of more than 400,000, has been a strategic focus of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
A charred car is seen in front of an apartment building destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol
The civilians arrived at a reception centre today amid a mass evacuation effort from Mariupol
The city, which usually has a population of more than 400,000, has been a strategic focus of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began five weeks ago, and has suffered near-constant bombardment.
Repeated attempts to organise safe corridors have failed, with each side blaming the other. Russia denies targeting civilians in its assault on Ukraine.
The prospect of an evacuation from the destroyed city came as Russia continued to shell the capital Kyiv and Chernihiv despite having vowed to ‘reduce’ military activity by ‘a large margin’.
President Volodymyr Zelensky told his war-torn nation to brace for a new Russian onslaught in the eastern Donbas region.
‘We don’t believe anyone, not a single beautiful phrase,’ Zelensky said in a late-night video message. ‘There is an accumulation of Russian troops for new strikes in Donbas and we are preparing for it.’
The city has been under Russian bombardment since Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine on February 24
An apartment building destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol
Dima, a three-year-old boy who was wounded during the shelling of Mariupol, lies in a bed in children’s ward of the hospital, in Zaporizhzhia. Britain could send armoured vehicles to help rescue people trapped in the beleaguered city
‘We will fight for every metre of our land,’ he said.
In five weeks of brutal fighting Russian forces have been humbled by dogged Ukrainian resistance, and forced to rethink any ambitions to sack the capital or overthrow the democratically elected government.
Western intelligence agencies have been keen to underscore Russia’s military failings, and to push suggestions that President Vladimir Putin is being misled by his own fearful advisors about battlefield reverses.
‘We’ve seen Russian soldiers – short of weapons and morale – refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,’ Britain’s GCHQ spy agency chief Jeremy Fleming on Thursday, after similar claims from the White House.
Citing US intelligence, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said Putin ‘felt misled by the Russian military’.
Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in Mariupol but no staff were inside after it was evacuated
Local residents are seen outside an apartment building sheltering from constant shelling in Mariupol
Military experts believe that with thousands of Russian troops killed and many thousands more injured, Moscow has no choice but to ditch efforts to advance simultaneously along multiple axes in the north, east and south.
Its focus instead has turned towards the east, and capturing more towns and cities in Donbas including Mariupol – even as the long-range assault on other cities continues.
Russia’s ministry of defence on Thursday claimed that was the plan all along.
‘The first stage of the special military operation,’ said major general Igor Konashenkov, was ‘to force the enemy to concentrate its forces, means, resources and military equipment to hold on to high populated areas’.
He said the aim was to degrade and tie up Ukrainian forces so they could not be used ‘in the main direction of our Armed Forces in Donbas’. ‘All these goals have been met,’ he added.
Repeated attempts to organise safe corridors have failed, with each side blaming the other
Some believe that Russia’s aim now will be to capture territory in the south to strengthen Moscow’s hand when it comes to negotiating peace.
‘I think we are now seeing the Russian strategy changing,’ said Marcus Hellyer of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a former Department of Defence and intelligence official. ‘They are focusing more on the east so it may be that they have realised they can’t completely defeat Ukraine.’
The new strategy, he suggested was ‘to occupy all of Donbas, occupy as much of the Black Sea coast as they can and use that as the facts on the ground for their negotiating strategy’.
Ukraine’s general staff on Thursday reported that some Russian units had already left northwestern Ukraine for Moscow-allied Belarus, and there was a ‘regrouping’ of units of the Eastern Military District.
They also claimed that Russia was preparing to create ‘another pseudo-republic in the Kherson region’ in southern Ukraine.
Since 2014 Russia has backed two similar breakaway Donbas statelets in Lugansk and Donetsk and recently recognised their independence.
The fate of these two self-styled ‘people’s republics’ is central to ongoing peace talks, with Kyiv insisting they are still part of Ukraine.
Russia has long sought a land link between the republics and also-occupied Crimea via Mariupol, which is now encircled by Russian forces.
Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen atop of an armoured vehicle in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol
Satellite images of the city have revealed the scale of devastation by relentless bombardment, with Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova accusing Russian forces of striking a clearly marked Red Cross facility near the city with aircraft and artillery.
An International Committee of the Red Cross official told AFP the facility was a warehouse but aid stored there had been distributed.
As generals and political leaders reassess their strategies for a new phase in the war, the toll on ordinary Ukrainians is still coming into harrowing focus.
In Irpin, a gateway to Kyiv, officials said they were recovering bodies in the streets and the area was still being shelled by Russia.
Irpin’s mayor Oleksandr Markushyn said at least 200 people had been killed there since the war began.
In the town of Trostyanets, just 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Russian border, AFP reporters saw dazed residents emerge from their homes as Ukrainian soldiers salvaged abandoned Russian vehicles.
‘There was nothing left to eat in the town, no water and no electricity,’ said Pavlo, who spent the past month hunkered down in his basement.
The United Nations estimates that four million Ukrainians – close to one in 10 inhabitants – have been forced to flee the country.
The head of the UN Human Rights Council has warned Moscow that ‘indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes’.
There are few signs of those attacks abating, despite recent talks in Istanbul and another round of video talks slated for April 1.
Both sides initially said the Istanbul meeting had made progress, but the Kremlin on Wednesday played down hopes of a breakthrough.
‘We cannot state that there was anything too promising,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Still, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday said a higher-level meeting ‘at least at the level of foreign ministers’ could happen in a week or two.