politics

Russia, Ukraine Agree to Ceasefire to Evacuate 2 Cities, But Officials Say Attacks Are Ongoing

Nikolay Ryabchenko | Reuters
  • Iryna Vereshchuk, deputy prime minister of Ukraine, said that Russia has violated the ceasefire agreement, which covered the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha.
  • Ukraine and Russia agreed the partial ceasefire Saturday in order to allow civilians to leave the two cities.
  • The fighting was due to stop at 10 a.m. Moscow time (2 a.m. ET), but there have been multiple reports of continued attacks after this time.

A temporary ceasefire agreed between Russia and Ukraine to let citizens leave two embattled cities looks increasingly fragile, with Ukrainian officials saying that shelling has continued.

Iryna Vereshchuk, deputy prime minister of Ukraine, said Saturday that Russia has violated the ceasefire agreement, which covered the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha.

In a video posted to Telegram, she said Russian forces had started shelling Volnovakha with heavy weapons around midday local time.

"I hereby state that Russia has violated [the ceasefire] agreement, failed to fulfill its duty and shells the town of Volnovaksha," she said, according to an NBC News translation. "Moreover, there has been fighting in the direction between Mariupol and Zaporizhia."

Evacuation suspended

Ukraine and Russia agreed the partial ceasefire Saturday in order to allow civilians to leave the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha. The fighting was due to stop at 10 a.m. Moscow time (2 a.m. ET) Saturday, but there have been multiple reports of continued attacks after this time.

Ukraine's Parliament said that Russia was "thwarting" the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol.

"The Russian military does not adhere to the [ceasefire] and continues the shelling of Mariupol and its environs. The evacuation of civilians is suspended for security reasons," it said.

Mariupol City Council also said that shelling by Russian forces continued, and confirmed that it had postponed its evacuation of residents.

"Due to the fact that the Russian side does not adhere to the ceasefire and continued shelling both Mariupol and its environs, for security reasons, THE EVACUATION OF THE POPULATION IS POSTPONED," the council said on Telegram. It told residents to return to a place of safety.

"Negotiations are currently underway with the Russian Federation to establish a [ceasefire] and ensure a secure humanitarian corridor."

The council had expected the ceasefire to last from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. local time and was planning to evacuate residents to Zaporizhzhia, a city to the west, on municipal buses.

Mariupol and Volnovakha

The two cities have borne the brunt of some of the most intense fighting in Ukraine over recent days.

Their location — in Ukraine's extreme southeast corner, near the Russian border and Crimea — makes them strategic targets for Moscow. If they fell to Russia, its troops could join forces with those in Crimea, a peninsula Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Mariupol is a port city, on the Sea of Azov.

Both cities are within Donetsk, one of two Ukrainian regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin's government recognized as independent just before his troops invaded Ukraine.

Outside of the cities, Russia's violent invasion of Ukraine continues.

The Russian Defense Ministry — in the same statement that outlined details of the ceasefire — said that its "offensive operations" continued elsewhere in the country.

Many of Ukraine's major cities, including the capital Kyiv, remain under attack from Russian forces invading from the north, east and south. However, a huge column of Russian military vehicles on its way to Kyiv appears to have stalled in recent days, amid unconfirmed reports of logistical problems and food and fuel shortages.

The situation on the ground in Ukraine is extremely volatile, and individual accounts are often difficult or impossible to verify.

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