Russian forces have seized 14 tonnes of supplies destined for the besieged city of Mariupol, where thousands of desperate Ukrainians are dangerously low on food, water and other vital supplies.
A group of 45 buses, travelling with the Red Cross convoy carrying aid to the city, was stopped in the town of Berdyansk in Russian-held territory. Vladimir Putin‘s troops looted the supplies being carried by the buses, reports said.
The Russian intervention came despite Moscow agreeing to a ceasefire from 10am local time yesterday to open a humanitarian corridor. The buses were to be used to evacuate citizens from the city which has been all-but razed by Russian shelling.
Around of 15 of the buses were able to return to Zaporizhzhia, found 120 miles north-west of Mariupol, with some civilians on-board. It was unclear whether the remaining 30 would be allowed to proceed.
Few humanitarian buses have managed to get people out of the city, but many have escaped in their cars – or even on foot – often under fire. The Ukrainian government said only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars in the last day.
The city has been the scene of some of the worst suffering of the war. Kyiv has said that at least 5,000 people have been killed in the city, but that number could be as high as 20,000, according to one Ukrainian official.
Tens of thousands have managed to get out in the past few weeks by way of humanitarian corridors, reducing the population from a pre-war 430,000 to an estimated 100,000 by last week, but other relief efforts have been thwarted by continued Russian attacks.
Russian forces have seized 14 tonnes of food and medical supplies destined for the besieged city of Mariupol, Kyiv has said. Pictured: Evacuees from Mariupol region arrive at reception centre, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, March 31, 2022
Two young boys are seen on an evacuation bus that arrived at reception centre in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, March 31, 2022, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that Russian forces seized 14 tonnes of supplies, while the deputy mayor of Mariupol said that the city remained closed for anyone trying to enter and was ‘dangerous’ for those trying to leave.
Petro Andryushchenko said Russian forces had since Thursday been preventing even the smallest amount of humanitarian supplies reaching trapped residents, making clear a planned ‘humanitarian corridor’ had not been opened.
‘The city remains closed to entry and very dangerous to exit with personal transport,’ he said on the Telegram messaging app.
‘In addition, since yesterday the occupiers have categorically not allowed any humanitarian aid – even in small quantities – into the city.’
The Mariupol mayor said this week that as many as 170,000 residents were trapped there with no power and dwindling supplies. There have been suggestions that due to a lack of connectivity, many of those still in the city are not even aware of the evacuation attempts, or where meeting points are.
Since Mariupol has been under siege following Putin’s invasion on February 24, repeated attempts to organise safe corridors have failed, with each side blaming the other. Russia denies attacking civilians in its assault on Ukraine, despite evidence.
The governor of the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine said separately that he hoped five safe corridors would be opened on Friday to towns and cities in his region.
Refugees from Mariupol have told horror stories of bodies lining the streets and families forced to kill their dogs for food. There have also been reports of Russian soldiers raping women and killing in the city.
Vladimir Putin has made clear the siege and bombing will continue after the humanitarian operation, insisting that the bombardment will only stop once all Ukrainian troops surrender.
Evacuees from Mariupol region arrive at reception centre, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, March 31, 2022
Local residents cook food outside an apartment building damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 30, 2022
Late last night, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Russia is consolidating and preparing ‘powerful strikes’ in the country’s east and south, including besieged Mariupol.
‘This is part of their tactics,’ said Zelensky in a now-customary address to the nation.
‘We know that they are moving away from the areas where we are beating them to focus on others that are very important… where it can be difficult for us,’ he said.
In particular, he warned, the situation in the country’s south and east was ‘very difficult’. ‘In Donbas and Mariupol, in the Kharkiv direction, the Russian army is accumulating the potential for attacks, powerful attacks,’ he said.
Military experts believe that Moscow is ditching efforts to advance simultaneously along multiple axes in the north, east and south, after struggling to overcome stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance.
Instead it wants to establish a long-sought land link between Crimea, which Moscow occupied in 2014, and the two Russian-backed Donbas separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Mariupol is the main remaining obstacle to that ambition, and Russian forces have encircled and relentlessly bombarded the city to try to capture it.
Instead, it has been reduced to rubble by indiscriminate Russian shelling with tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside with little food, water or medicine.
Previous attempts to evacuate residents have collapsed, though some have made the dangerous dash to freedom alone, but on Friday Russia says it will allow a humanitarian corridor organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The ICRC’s Ukraine delegation said on Twitter it was in nearby Zaporizhzhia, where buses from the encircled city are meant to arrive.
‘We hope to be able to facilitate safe passage for civilians desperately wanting to flee Mariupol. We are also here with two trucks of assistance, hoping that we can also get assistance in,’ the organisation’s Lucile Marbeau said in a video.
‘In these trucks there is food, medicine, relief items, for those civilians who decide to stay,’ she added.
Local residents carry supplies while walking past an apartment building damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 31, 2022
Local resident Pavel, 42, stands next to the grave of his friend Igor, who was killed by shelling while they were riding together in a car during Ukraine-Russia conflict, in a residential area in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 30, 2022
Earlier this week, Mariupol’s mayor said more than 20,000 of the city’s residents had been taken ‘against their will’ to Russia, where their identity documents were confiscated and before they were moved ‘to Russian cities far away.’
The office said on Wednesday that: ‘More than 70 people, women and medical personnel from maternity hospital No. 2 from the left bank district were taken by force by the occupiers.’
In recent days, France, Greece and Turkey have been trying to organise a mass evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, but talks between French President Emmanuel Macron and Putin ended Tuesday without a deal.
The proposal was rejected by the Russian leader, who said ‘nationalists’ in the city must surrender before the ‘difficult humanitarian situation’ is resolved, effectively scuppering the proposed relief mission.
Kyiv said on Wednesday Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in Mariupol.
On the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned shelling of the city would only end when Ukrainian troops in the city surrender.
‘In Mariupol, the occupiers aimed at the building of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),’ Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said in a statement, adding the building ‘marked with a red cross on a white background’ was targeted by aircraft and artillery.
Drone footage taken over the city shows the devastating trail of destruction wrought by Putin
Homes, administrative buildings and cultural landmarks have all been shelled in the brutal campaign
Thousands of people have died in Mariupol since the city was subjected to horrific bombardment, and the theatre has been completely destroyed (pictured)
BEFORE: A satellite image shows home and buildings in Mariupol in June last year before the Russian invasion
AFTER: A photo taken on Tuesday shows the scale of devastation on the port city wrought by Putin’s army
Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in Mariupol but no staff were inside after it was evacuated
An ICRC spokeswoman confirmed that images circulating across social media of a destroyed building were warehouses belonging to the organisation in Mariupol. They showed a building with huge holes in the roof – and a red cross.
‘We do not have a team on the ground so we have no other information, including on potential casualties or damage,’ the spokeswoman said, adding that all aid stored there had been distributed.
The attack came a day after the ICRC urged Ukraine and Russia to agree on the delivery of aid and safe evacuation of civilians from the city
Meanwhile, Russia has moved about 20 percent of its troops from around Kyiv but its strikes have continued and troops are likely ‘going to be repositioned, probably into Belarus, to be refitted and resupplied and used elsewhere in Ukraine,’ said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
Russian troops have also pulled back from the Chernobyl nuclear plant after weeks of occupation, but have taken a number of captive Ukrainian servicemen with them, according to officials in Kyiv.
And in a sign that the war could be expanding in scope, a Russian official said Friday that Ukrainian helicopters had carried out a strike on a fuel depot in the Russian town of Belgorod, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the border with Ukraine.
Western intelligence has claimed Putin’s advisors may be ‘afraid to tell him the truth’ and US President Joe Biden has suggested some advisors may even have been placed under house arrest, though he cautioned ‘there’s a lot of speculation.’