A convoy attempting to help the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol has been forced to turn back, leaving the besieged city’s most vulnerable trapped.
An International Committee of the Red Cross team comprising three vehicles and nine personnel left Zaporizhzhia on Friday morning for a 200km journey to Russian-controlled Berdyansk, where it was to meet 30 evacuation buses.
Ukraine and Russia had agreed “in principle” to allow the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol on Friday. Ukraine’s state emergency services would drive the buses, with the ICRC vehicles acting as escort taking the lead and bringing up the rear, to collect civilians from Mariupol, the target of fierce Russian shelling.
But the vehicles “had to return to Zaporizhzhia after arrangements and conditions made it impossible to proceed”, the ICRC said on Friday afternoon.
The convoy would make a second attempt on Saturday, the ICRC added.
The ICRC told the Financial Times: “The challenges we’re having around Mariupol show how important it is for all the details of safe-passage operations to be clearly agreed upon and shared throughout the chains of command. It’s imperative that these operations unfold in a safe way for all.”
Ukrainian government officials have said 100,000 civilians, including the elderly, disabled people and children, are in need of urgent evacuation from the city that has borne the brunt of Russian attacks.
Ulyana Tokareva, a Mariupol native and head of the council of women of the Donetsk region, who is helping to evacuate family, friends and colleagues, described the devastating siege conditions that civilians are having to endure.
“We know for sure from witnesses that the city is being shelled and looted by the Russian military, there is no medicine, people are suffering from hunger, lack of drinking water,” Tokareva said.
“There are very few surviving houses in the city. My house is also destroyed, as are the houses of almost all my acquaintances….
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