The Russian Defense Ministry said it would authorize the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Monday, according to a statement shared on Telegram and translated by Western media. Ukraine claims that no agreement on the humanitarian corridor has yet been concluded.
The steel mill is the last remaining Ukrainian outpost in the port city, which has been blockaded by Russian forces for much of the past two months. About 2,000 soldiers fought to defend the factory, in which civilians took refuge underground. Ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova previously put the number at around 1,000, according to the Kyiv Independent.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops not to storm the steelworks, but rather to seal it off so that “not even a fly would get through”. Ukrainian officials said on Sunday that Russian forces had attempted to storm the compound and were continuing to bombard it with airstrikes, including from long-range aircraft.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday it would open a humanitarian corridor for civilians to evacuate the factory from 2 p.m. local time.
Russian troops “from 2:00 p.m. Moscow time on April 25, 2022 will unilaterally cease all hostilities, withdraw units to a safe distance and ensure the withdrawal” of civilians, according to a translation by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty .
The ministry said the ceasefire will specifically ensure the withdrawal of workers, women and children from the plant in any direction they choose, Forbes reports. He also accused Ukrainian forces of using the civilians trapped inside the plant as human shields – Ukrainian officials have refuted this claim and accuse Russian forces of deliberately targeting civilians.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshschuk said on Monday that the two countries had not reached an agreement with Russia on allowing humanitarian evacuations from Mariupol.
“It is important to understand that a humanitarian corridor opens with the agreement of both parties,” she said on Telegram, according to Reuters. “A unilaterally announced corridor does not provide security, and is therefore not a humanitarian corridor.”
The Stratcom Center of Ukraine, under the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, tweeted that as no agreement has been formally concluded with Russia, such a corridor will not be safe. Russian forces have already fired on many corridors, he added.
Officials ask the UN Secretary General to “initiate and guarantee” a humanitarian corridor for civilians in Azovstal.
More than 100,000 people are believed to be trapped in the city with little food, water or heat, the Associated Press reported. That’s according to Ukrainian authorities, who estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed there in the past two months.
This story originally appeared in the morning edition live blog.