MOSCOW: Russia’s defence ministry said on Saturday it had resumed “offensive actions” in Ukraine after announcing a ceasefire earlier in the day to allow residents of two besieged cities to evacuate.
However, Ukrainian officials said Russian artillery fire and air strikes had prevented residents from leaving before the agreed-to evacuations got under way.
President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of sabotaging the effort and claimed the actions of Ukraine’s leadership “called into question the country’s future as an independent state”.
“Due to the unwillingness of the Ukrainian side to influence nationalists or extend the regime of silence, offensive actions have been resumed at 18:00 Moscow time (1500 GMT),” defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a video briefing.
Russia had said it had opened humanitarian corridors for the exit of civilians from the strategic port town of Mariupol and neighbouring Volnovakha.
Konashenkov said that “not a single civilian” was able to exit via the humanitarian corridors.
According to analysts, the struggle to enforce the temporary ceasefire in Mariupol and Volnovakha showed the fragility of efforts to stop the fighting across Ukraine as the number of people fleeing the country reached 1.4 million just 10 days after Russian forces invaded.
Russia’s days-long assault has caused growing misery in Mariupol, where journalists witnessed doctors making unsuccessful attempts to save the lives of wounded children, pharmacies running bare and hundreds of thousands of people facing food and water shortages in freezing weather.
In comments carried on Ukrainian television, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said thousands of residents had gathered for safe passage out of the city when shelling began on Saturday.
“We value the life of every inhabitant of Mariupol and we cannot risk it, so we stopped the evacuation,” he said. In recent days, Ukraine had urged Moscow to create humanitarian corridors to allow children, women and the elderly to flee the fighting.
Elsewhere in the country, Ukrainian forces were holding key cities in central and southeastern Ukraine, while the Russians were trying to keep Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv and Sumy encircled.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was ready for a third round of talks on ceasefire and other issues, but he claimed that the Ukrainian side was constantly making up various pretexts to delay the beginning of another meeting.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2022