Mariupol evacuation stalls as Red Cross team is turned back

A planned mass evacuation of civilians from the besieged southern city of Mariupol, facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, fell through on Friday, although Ukrainian officials said about 3,000 civilians managed to flee the city without a Red Cross escort.

Thousands of civilians have been trapped in the city for weeks under constant Russian bombardment with limited access to food, water and electricity, making Mariupol a powerful symbol of the humanitarian crisis gripping Ukraine.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, wrote on Telegram, the messaging platform, that 6,266 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities on Friday, including 3,071 from Mariupol, a glimmer of hope in a city stricken by despair.

A large-scale evacuation by a The Red Cross team, which was en route to Mariupol to escort a convoy of buses and cars carrying civilians, had to turn back because it was not given guarantees of conditions that would ensure safe passage, the organization said in a Explanation.

The ICRC said the team, made up of three vehicles and nine staff, will try again on Saturday. “It is crucial for the success of the operation that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees,” the statement said.

The Red Cross said it expected about 54 buses, along with an unknown number of private vehicles, to take part in an evacuation convoy carrying thousands of people. It said two trucks filled with food, water and medicine were to accompany its team to Mariupol, but it failed to get permission from the Russians to deliver the aid and abandoned the trucks.

While the larger convoy failed on Friday, local officials said smaller groups of people were able to leave the city in cars. On Friday afternoon, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed in a statement on her Telegram page that a corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhia was opened by private transport.

Around noon local time, Pyotr Andryushenko, the mayor’s adviser, said some buses left Mariupol for near Berdyansk.

Around that time, the Mariupol City Council released a video of a convoy with a note that read, “Almost 2,000 people will be taken away by bus alone!” It was unclear on Friday how many people ultimately remained in the convoy.

Friday’s effort came a day after the International Red Cross announced a corridor could be opened after Russia’s defense ministry announced a ceasefire had been agreed that would allow people to head west of the city walk. By Friday night, any hope of a wider evacuation was gone.

Nick Cumming Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva. Mariupol evacuation stalls as Red Cross team is turned back

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