The planned opening of a humanitarian corridor in southern Ukraine to allow people trapped in Mariupol a way out of the fighting was stalled Wednesday because Russia couldn’t ensure a cease-fire, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
People gathered at collection points, but few boarded buses to leave the city, she said.
“Due to the lack of control over their own military on the ground, the occupiers were unable to ensure a proper cease-fire,” Vereshchuk said, according to CNN. “Also, due to the inherent disorganization and negligence, the occupiers were unable to provide timely transportation of people to the point where dozens of our buses and ambulances were waiting.”
She said officials would try again to evacuate the civilians Thursday morning.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking after a meeting with European Council President Charles Michel in Kyiv, said, “The situation Mariupol is deteriorating.”
“Unfortunately, we cannot achieve any positive results there,” he said, according to Ukrinform. “Therefore, I don’t know when we can unblock Mariupol.”
Zelensky proposed two ways to unblock the city — the assistance of “serious, heavy weapons” or diplomacy with Russia.
“Russia has not agreed to it so far,” he said.
“They [Russian invaders] left both the corpses scattered and the wounded. We are ready for any format of exchange for the sake of our people, both the military and civilians.”
The Russians initially agreed to open an escape route for women, children and the elderly in Mariupol, which has been under heavy attack for weeks. The city is a key battleground for Moscow and would facilitate its new offensive in the eastern part of Ukraine.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said later that the corridor had been opened to let Ukrainian troops withdraw and civilians escape. It called on fighters to “voluntarily lay down their arms.”
A small convoy of vehicles carrying Ukrainian civilians departed Mariupol for another Ukraine-controlled area, officials in Kyiv said.
The Mariupol corridor came after Russia set a new deadline on Wednesday for Ukrainian troops to vacate the city or face a new military assault. Moscow originally given Ukrainian forces until noon Tuesday to do so.
The deadline passed on Wednesday without any major Ukrainian surrender.
Vereshchuk said that, under the proposed corridor, trapped residents in Mariupol would be moved to Zaporizhzhia via Berdyansk. There have been repeated and unsuccessful efforts to evacuate civilians in Mariupol and other populated targets in Ukraine since the war began in February.
Prior to his meeting with Zelensky, Michel visited the town of Borodianka, a suburb of Kyiv where residents discovered wide destruction, mass graves and bodies strewn in the streets after Russian troops left. Michel compared the devastation to that of nearby Bucha.
“History will not forget the war crimes that have been committed here,” Michel tweeted. “There can be no peace without justice.”
He pledged to help Zelensky win the war with $1.63 billion in funding from the European Council.
“I have one message for Russian soldiers: If you want no part in killing your Ukrainian brothers and sisters … drop your arms, leave the battlefield,” he said.
Moscow, meanwhile, kept up shelling on Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, where much of the Ukrainian resistance is stationed. They have flatly refused Russian demands to surrender and Ukrainian authorities are repeating pleas for aid and weapons to fend off Russian fighters.
Some Ukrainian troops said they are running out of time.
“This could be the last appeal of our lives,” Ukrainian Maj. Serhiy Volyna said, according to CNBC. “We are probably facing our last days, if not hours.
“The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one. They have advantage in the air, in artillery, in their forces on land, in equipment and in tanks. We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us.”